Raghu, a clerk in a bank in Chennai, was only 14 years old when he first dropped his cricket bat to catch a frisbee. Four and a half years later, this resident of Besant Nagar, is yet to let go of the disc and his dream to represent India in this beach sport. This passionate player is amongst a team of 15, which has been selected for the World Championships of Beach Ultimate in France. But with no sponsors or Government support, it seems like the team may not even be able to cover the airfare, leave alone attend the tournament.
Chennai has been the focal point for frisbee, merely in account of the number of ultimate players it has generated. Over the last five years, the game and the interest in it has grown manifold. The team selected for the world championship (2017) is largely considered to be the best yet and were eagerly looking forward to the competition in June.
The team, consisting of boys and girls, has been practicing rigorously and trying to gather funds for the tournament side by side. With organisers allowing 15 players and one staff to attend the tournament, the total cost was chalked up to be Rs.28 lakh for the Indian team. Of this, seven players are from Chennai and none of them have achieved the individual target of Rs.1.5 lakh.
"As of now, only six players have been able to find funds to attend the tournament - five girls and one boy. We need at least nine players even to form a team," says 22-year-old Udhaya Kumar, the Indian contingent's coach. "The players from Chennai are from middle class and lower middle class families. They have just started earning and their salaries are only enough to support their families and they have no savings of any sort," he says.
The team has done everything within its means to collect funds. One of its members, 19-year-old Selvi who is a college student, even took to selling chocolates and biscuits at the sidelines of interstate tournaments the team attended. In addition to this, a tournament was held in Chennai with entry fee to help these players achieve their dreams. Their last resort, now, is crowdfunding.
"The last couple of times we had a dedicated manager to help us raise funds through corporate sponsorship. They would come on a voluntary basis," explains Praveen. "Nobody has come forward with interest this time. We are managing day jobs, holding regular practices and trying to raise funds. Frisbee clubs have promised to help but nothing has really worked yet. All we want to do is play for India and make the country proud," he says. The team expects no help from the State Government because the sport is not affiliated to the Indian Olympic committee.
The current team that is set to represent India, has a majority of players who have been to an international tournament before. This, according to players, would give them the edge they very much require. The team had finished 9th out of 16 teams in the World Under-23 Ultimate Championship in London (2015). Following this, in the World Ultimate and Guts championship, they were ranked 22 out of 30 teams.
"This time we want to finish within the top 10," says 24-year-old Praveen Kumar, the captain of the team. For this young boy from Chennai, playing frisbee has been a confidence booster and he holds great pride in India having won the equivalent of a 'Fair Play award' in previous tournaments. "That is even bigger than the final trophy. We thought our performance will get even better. Now, I am afraid that we will not even be able to make for the tournament," he laments.
For these youngsters, passion for the sport opened doors that would have normally been shut on their faces. "This sport is one that they can play because it does not require much investment. But even then, they do not get support from their families," says Udhaya. "All parents, including mine, see the money we spend on the sport as an unnecessary expenditure. For a family which depends on their child's income of Rs. 12,000, even an expenditure of Rs.2000 to go for a tournament in Mumbai is a big deal. For these boys, ultimate frisbee is their ticket to a world that they were merely seeing through a window," he adds desperately.
You can contribute for the team's expenses here.