One of 82 youngsters selected by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for its latest Young Change-Makers (YCM) initiative, Rohith Maradapa is on a mission to help deprived children fulfil their potential.
It is going to be a frenetic year for Rohith Maradapa. The 23-year-old is currently in training for the Asian Games in August in Singapore as the cox of the Indian men’s rowing eight, while in October he heads to Argentina as the YCM for the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Buenos Aires 2018. His hectic schedule for 2018, however, also includes plans to start a sports-based outreach project in the Tamil Nadu state in southern India, a project he hopes will inspire young people from poor backgrounds to achieve more in life.
“I have always been passionate about fair play, equality and unity, and for me this is what the Olympic Games are about,” he says. “This is why I applied to become a YCM and why I want to try to make a difference for the many economically disadvantaged children in my country. The Olympics treat every nation as equal. The playing field is a level one, and it is that concept of fairness and equality that I aim to bring to my project back home.”
I want to foster the Olympic values of equality and sportsmanship between countries.Rohith Maradapa India
His role at Buenos Aires 2018 following the Asian Games is one for which Maradapa has a clear vision, and he is determined to ensure young Indian athletes make the most of the global nature of the event. “At the YOG I will organise events and workshops designed to help the athletes connect meaningfully with at least two or three people from other nations,” he says. “To achieve this, I will need to collaborate with other YCMs to bring people together.
“I want to foster the Olympic values of equality and sportsmanship between countries. My role will also be to act as a bridge between the young Indian athletes and their Olympic heroes who will be there and make sure they are not discouraged by language barriers or embarrassment.”
Later this year, Maradapa will submit a formal application to become part of the IOC’s Young Change-Maker+ (YCM+) Programme. The inspiration for his project came from his experiences as a leader of his college’s outreach group and left an inedible mark on him.
“I was appalled to see the stark difference in living conditions of youngsters living in a slum who were roughly my age,” he says. “There was a boy called Ganesh, who was 18, working two jobs and deprived of an education from the age of 15 because of an unemployed, alcoholic father. My group persuaded him to return to school but he was ostracised in his neighbourhood because he was from a lower caste and poor background. The other kids did not want him to study. Young people from economically deprived places are at such a big disadvantage and need mentors and help to realise their potential. Why should it be that they cannot aspire when none of their situation is their fault?"
In my country, we have a saying – ‘All Indians are my brothers and sisters’ – and this means it is our responsibility to practise fairness and equality.Rohith Maradapa India
"In my country, we have a saying – ‘All Indians are my brothers and sisters’ – and this means it is our responsibility to practise fairness and equality. My goal is to break down barriers and promote fair play through workshops and sports such as ultimate frisbee. It is my aim to encourage youngsters to embrace a collaborative and empathetic outlook and, in doing so, make it easier for disadvantaged young people to achieve more.”