Para-shuttle Manoj Sarkar, the only athlete from Uttarakhand to win a medal at the Tokyo Paralympic Games, spoke to Mohammad Anab about the pressures of playing amid the Covid situation and the adulation that comes after having won the bronze medal. Extracts:
You’ve had quite a journey, facing extreme financial hardship, working as a daily laborer until now being hailed as a sports hero and winning a medal at the Paralympic Games. How do you see the experience?
I never imagined that my life would take such a turn. There was always motivation to play for the country and that was the driving force, but never in my dreams did I think that the Prime Minister or the CM would call me personally to congratulate me on my sporting achievement. It has been a challenging and rewarding trip without a doubt – in my youth I had to do odd jobs in order to meet the expenses of playing badminton. There were times when my coworkers and I used to share a racket between us. But the situation has changed and there is now immense support from government and business.
What was it like participating in a global event like the Paralympic Games in the shadow of the Covid pandemic?
Participating in sporting events during the Covid period has become quite difficult. We were in bio-bubble camps and it can be mentally exhausting. This definitely affects the performance of an athlete as he is not able to move around freely or interact with his teammates. Additionally, players are not able to get the type of training they want due to restrictions. This has an impact on the game.
The Minister of Sports of Uttarakhand announced a cash reward of Rs 50 lakh for you and also promised a job in the government. Do you think that such rewards only come to an athlete after winning medals at the Olympic or Paralympic Games?
Yes, it’s true. Only a small percentage of athletes are able to win a medal at a multi-nation event like the Paralympic Games in their lifetime. Having a stable job is important as it provides financial security for a player.
I thank the government of Uttarakhand for their gesture and at the same time, I believe that more jobs should be allocated to sportsmen and that they should not be allocated solely on the basis of results. Instead, a provision should be there even for athletes who represent the state in national level tournaments.
Do you think awareness and interest in para-sports will increase after India’s stellar performance at the Tokyo Paralympic Games?
Yes, I think so. Even I didn’t know about parasports until Class 12. Credit goes to the government as well as to the media who started to spotlight parasport stories. Thanks to all this, we are recognized.