Hailing from the small town of Neyveli in Tamil Nadu, 21-year old Sajan Prakash recently fulfilled his childhood dream of competing at the Commonwealth and Asian Games for India. However, his road to success has been marred by financial issues.
Prakash is currently one of the top swimmers in the country, having set the national record in the 400 metre freestyle event at the age of 20. He shot into fame at the 2013 National Aquatics Championship, winning three gold medals and two silvers, before qualifying for both the major events this year.
He topped it off by finishing 10th at the 400 m freestyle event in Glasgow and becoming the highest ranked Indian at the event with a time of 3:58.51.
Apart from the freestyle event, Prakash also participated in the 200 m freestyle and his favourite, the 100 m butterfly.
The lack of a proper financial backing is not letting him nurture his talent to the next level.
I work in the Railways for a salary of 15,000, that’s the only source of income I have. It only covers for my accommodation. My pool fees in Bangalore itself is Rs 3,200, there is no government support whatsoever.”
My job hours are such that I have to work from 9:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the evening. With such timings, I barely get any time to train.”
He further thanks certain employees of the railways, but says that the Federation has to do a lot to enable swimmers.
Prakash is not the first Indian swimmer to point out infrastructural problems within the sport. Three time National Champion, Rehan Poncha said in an open letter to Nardendra Modi,
I do not understand why these excess funds cannot be spent on the development of athletic talent in India. Today as I travel to coach and share my experience with swimmers across the country, I see the paucity of funds reflected at every pool. There are many many kids sitting in different national academies with not enough money to buy themselves proper racing gear or nutrition to train better!”
Prakash is one of the lucky swimmers, who has been able to somehow manage the funds to develop.
His mother Shanty Mohl was an ex athlete, batchmate of P.T Usha and represented India in several tournaments abroad. However, her career was cut short due to injury.
With the Rio Olympics just two years away, he has already set his eyes on qualification. Prakash has to first qualify for the 2015 World Championship, only then will he get a chance for the Rio Olympics.
Sajan Prakash during training
He has already clocked a time of 3 minutes and 55 seconds at the Senior Championship, which is one second off the qualification mark for the Olympics (400 m freestyle).
National Coach, Pradeep Kumar said:
The last nationals have been the highpoint of his career so far. He is talented and having made the qualification standard for the Commonwealth Games augurs well.”
It looks like Rehan Poncha’s open letter to Narendra Modi had no effect whatsoever on the people governing swimming in the country. However, the passion and dedication of athletes like Sajan Prakash will continue to give the sport representation abroad.