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17 Feb 2012
Women in Sport , IOC News , Olympism in action

Nurturing female athletes in India

IOC Young Reporter Sonali Prasad talks to the inspiring Manisha Malhotra, winner of the IOC Women and Sport Awards World Trophy.

She is an inspiration to all and a role model to many. Manisha Malhotra lightens the mood with her infectious smile and her tales of struggle and success. Despite having retired from a sporting career as an international tennis player, Mumbai native Malhotra continues to contribute to the sporting world by encouraging and supporting female athletes in her home country, India.

“I was really blessed and I owe a lot to sport,” she says. “I got to travel and see the world. And I always wanted to give back to sport in whichever way I could.” Initially, she thought of contributing solely to her own sport. But as she advanced, she began to turn her attention to other sports in addition to tennis. “I realised that tennis players are more privileged than many other athletes in India,” she adds.

As a founding member of the Mittal Champions Trust, which promotes sport and its values through funding and financial help, Malhotra has been successful in helping many athletes. “The support from the Trust doesn’t only go to girls; we help anybody who really deserves it,” she smiles proudly.  “When we started researching about who really needed the funding the most, it was a no-brainer that it was the women athletes who were the most impoverished. “

The Mittal Champions Trust currently supports 38 athletes, of whom 21 are women. Of those, Malhotra cites an example of Somangla, an archer hailing from an orphanage in Uttar Pradesh, one of India’s poorest states. “I struggled to get her a passport because she did not have a family name. I am her legal guardian now. As a child, she was malnourished and struggled with injuries. She lived in my house for eight months trying to nurse her wrist,” she says.

But the struggle paid off. Somangla has now taken an archery coaching course and will start coaching children back in her state. One of the many obstacles Malhotra faces in her drive to empowering girls and young women through sport is convincing the athletes’ families that sport is a viable option for a young woman.

“I think me being a woman helps. I tell them there is a lot more out there. In a lot of cases with my athletes, I have to convince their families,” she says. Despite her determination to make a difference, many families turn down the offer.  “Those numbers are decreasing by the day though,” Malhotra adds positively.

Speaking about her future plans, she states that fostering young talent at the grassroots level and reaching out to a broader base of athletes is next on her agenda.“There is no scientific method of harnessing talent. I am trying to go to the most remote parts of India to find athletes and help them nurture their talent.” As the winner of the IOC’s Women and Sport World Trophy, Malhotra is surprised and, moreover, amazed. “I just love what I do. I don’t do it for any kind of recognition,” she says.  “I really feel that it is only because of the Indian athletes who have come to the forefront. I am just their spokesperson and I feel lucky to be able to help them.”

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