In India, cricket is a religion, but there was a time when the Payyoli Express, better known as PT Usha, had the country supporting her wholeheartedly. When it came to the Olympics or Commonwealth Games we always have struggled to show our medals, while the Chinese pass us by taking the victor’s crown. You may say it is because of the rigorous practice followed but you cannot ignore the fact that China encourages and facilitates its athletes, while India does not.

In an interview to a journalist from The SoftCopy, she is known to have said “We, poor Indians, what will we do?” she said. “There are only a few fortunate people, who get sponsorship, which, again depends on one’s caste, creed, religion and region.

Somehow, it all seems true.

Coming back to athletics, when was the last time you heard of anything being done in this field? When did you hear of athletes being given their due?

The answer will be no and so PT Usha decided it was high time she took matters into her hands. She decided to put appeal for funds from the public which expects India to do well in athletics and which roots for the country to produce more athletes.

So, she has signed an MoU with Bengaluru-based crowdfunding platform Milaap, to raise the required funds for the training of the Olympic hopefuls. One among them is Abitha Mary Manuel. The 18-year-old sprinter hails from Kakkayam in Kozhikode. Her event is the 800m dash. The funding goal set for her is Rs 120,000 and with 16 more days to go, generous donors have pooled in Rs 84, 236 till now. Abitha has been training at the Usha School of Athletics since 2011. Her mother is a homemaker and her father is a farmer. Among her notable achievements is the bronze medal in the Commonwealth Youth games held in Samoa near New Zealand.

Abitha is need of sponsorship because neither the state nor the centre has even turned back to see how its athletes are doing.

Milaap lists this fundraising’s purpose to be to help Abitha with her training for the next six months. Abitha needs about Rs 20,000 every month to maintain her training. There are more athletes like her who dream of making the country proud but cannot because they do not have the means to.  Just running on the track is not enough, you need money to sustain an athlete’s diet, their equipment, space for training, health monitoring, supplements, coaching, travel expenses and more. The academy had decided to collect money through all legal ways possible when they failed to raise the required funds through sponsors.

Crowdfunding is not new to Indian sports. Once everybody realised that cricket would always be getting the lion’s share of the funds, others decided to look for other ways. Asia’s top shot-putter Inderjeet Singh, sprinter Dutee Chand and racewalker Khushbir Singh are a few athletes who use crowdfunding. The Ice Hockey Association of India started an online campaign to source funds for India’s women's ice hockey team.

Sports sponsorship grew 19.33% in 2016 to touch Rs6,400 crore, highlighting the willingness of advertisers to spend big money on sporting events

In March this year, a report by GroupM ESP, the sports and entertainment arm of GroupM pointed out that sports sponsorship grew 19.33% in 2016 to touch Rs6,400 crore, highlighting the willingness of advertisers to spend big money on sporting events—in terms of sponsorship, endorsements by cricketers, and advertising during sports events and in their coverage across print, TV and digital media.

While the report did not have any breakups according to each sport’s contribution, then names being talked about were cricket, football, hockey, badminton and kabaddi. Well, you also may be well aware of the Premier League format Indians are rooting for and that is how badminton and kabaddi are getting some attention.  

So the fate of Indian stars in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics rests with you.