India's lone gold medal-winning ice skater struggles for funds

Updated: 11 March 2014 12:48 IST

Son of a street hawker from New Delhi's Paharganj area, Rajkumar Tiwari won India's first ice skating gold medal in the Special Olympics last year.

New Delhi:

There are many stories of sportspersons struggling with their careers due to lackadaisical attitude of officials. In the process, the athlete concerned is often forced to sacrifice his/her career. Similar is the story of a certain Rajkumar Tiwari, India's first ice skater to win an international gold medal. Lack of funds means Rajkumar's dreams of representing India at the Winter Olympics one day, may remain just that, a dream.

New Delhi's Sadar Bazar area may be enchanting for some and overcrowded for most. But it's hardly the kind of place you'd expect to find a gold medal-winning athlete. Rajkumar managed to break the ice, literally. Son of a street hawker from the area, Rajkumar has been reduced to selling goods to try and replicate his achievement of becoming the first Indian to win a gold medal at an international figure skating event.

Rajkumar's feat came in last year's Special Olympics, a competition meant for those athletes with intellectual disabilities. Rajkumar, who was diagnosed with moderate mental retardation and hyperactivity disorder at an early age, won a gold in the singles event, and a silver in pairs. However, the 21-year-old's bid to win more medals for the country has come to a halt due to lack of funds. Rajkumar, who is now competing in regular events, needs Rs 70,000 for a tournament in Malaysia next month. But so far he hasn't managed to arrange any funds. "I don't have much hope to compete again, I know I've used up my father's money in ice skating. Now he's asking me to stop ice skating. We don't have the money to manage things", Rajkumar told NDTV at his residence in Paharganj. "My entire family's income is managed from this shop of mine, where do I get the money for anything extra?", his father Rajkesh Tiwari told.

It's a family of seven that stays in the one-room house in Paharganj. Needless to say, the combined family income of about Rs 6000 a month, is not enough. The nearest skating rink for Rajkumar is in Gurgaon, where an hour of training costs him Rs 480. He  has been getting a concession after his medals at the Special Olympics. But it's still a luxury. Which is why he has to make do with roller skating instead most of the days.

Helpful neighbours and a co-operative landlord chipped in and funded his trips to South Korea and Australia last year. But, even they have their limitations. "I have given him money for his last two trips, now he is asking for money again. We have our problems too", said Madan Mahajan, Rajkumar's landlord. One of his neighbours infact took Rajkumar to Sheila Dixit, then Chief Minister of Delhi, who had promised to help him after his achievement. "We waited for 3 hours at Sheila Dixit's office, and nobody even came to meet us. The problem in India is everyone makes promises, nobody really keeps them", said Rajkumar's neighbour, Lalit.

Infact, repeated letters to Sports Minister Jitendra Singh, have also not been of any use. But why isn't the Ice Skating Association of India sponsoring Rajkumar's trip, like other federations do? NDTV learnt that they're not even affiliated to the sports ministry, and hence have no access to the funds reserved for athletes. "We had sent the application for recognition as a National Sports Federation, with the Sports Ministry in 2006. We had submitted all documents, and we have been following it up. The Ministry has been postponing for some or the other small reason," Colonel SC Narang, director of the Ice Skating Association of India, said.  

"My neighbours helped me and gave me a chance, and I showed them what I am capable of. I want the others to give me a chance too. I want to compete for India at the Winter Olympics, and win a medal there", said a dejected Rajkumar. The ball is clearly in the Sports Ministry's court now. Hopefully, they will ensure India does not end up losing another Olympic medal prospect.

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