Great to see youth following sports other than cricket: Bhutia

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New Delhi, June 16 (IANS) In conjunction with the global Special Olympics ‘Surprise & Delight initiative for special athletes, Special Olympics Bharat held interactive sessions with some of Indias most notable sport celebrities via a series of interactive online sessions. The virtual sessions revolved around various aspects of sports and inclusion, where the special athletes were joined by the likes of former Indian footballer Bhaichung Bhutia, former Indian swimming champion Bula Choudhury, seven-time Indian national tennis champion Gaurav Natekar and CEO of Pro Volleyball League Joy Bhattacharjya.
In a previous session they also had the opportunity to interact with Athletics World Champion Anju Bobby George, Athletics coach Robert Bobby George, former Indian athlete Anand Menezes and former Indian heptathlete Pramila Gudanda Aiyappa.
These sessions enabled special athletes and their parents to learn from industry stalwarts and share their own experiences, abilities and challenges around inclusion and the sporting culture in the country. It also gave them an opportunity to seek advice, ask questions and revel in the excitement of sharing a platform with key persons strengthening the sports ecology in India.
Bhutia interacted with the special athletes and shared inspiring anecdotes from his journey as a footballer. He also highlighted the importance and benefits of playing a sport from a young age and encouraged the athletes to continue training well. In response to one of the questions about increasing popularity and participation in football in India, Bhutia said, “It is great to see the youth following sports other than cricket. Thanks to live telecasts of European football, the sport is much more popular among kids now than it was 20 years ago. The need of the hour is to convert that interest into playing.
“Talent is there, but it is important for people to get their children to the grounds to play. We should organize more and more competitions at the grassroots level to encourage the youth and grow the culture of football and other sports in the country.”
Air Marshal Denzil Keelor (Retd.) PVSM, KC, AVSM, VrC, Founder & CEO SO Bharat said, “Our special athletes have been training in hundreds, attending the World Games & bringing back medals galore; more than anyone else from any other federation, and yet the awareness level of this population is less than one percent. The event such as this, are opportunities we value to reach out to distinguished persons of the society who are in a position to catalyze inclusion.”
Special athletes were also joined by their family members who sought advice on training at home during lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Bula Choudhary and Gaurav Natekar expressed their thoughts on the ongoing crisis and answered questions on various skills and challenges of particular sports. Meanwhile, Joy Bhattacharjya drew attention to the importance of inclusion and unified sports in schools, “Children don’t just go to school to study. They also go there to socialize and do things together with their peers. Unified sports is just as important as academic integration.”
Satish Pillai, Chairman, Special Olympics Bharat expressed gratitude and highlighted the importance of such sessions, “I would like to thank all the members of the sports fraternity who have participated in this initiative and very patiently responded to the interesting questions from our athletes and their parents.”

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