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Financial struggles of India’s first judo Olympic medallist

Thangjam Tababi Devi became India’s first judo medallist at the Olympic level, claiming a silver medal at the Youth Olympic Games 2018 in Argentina. But the delight for her parents was accompanied by a sense of worry. Her father Thangjam Thoiba Singh works as a daily wage labourer and her mother Thangjam Ongbi Kamala Devi as a fish vendor. Their daily earning is of about Rs 240 ($3,37).

“When she started judo, sometimes we did not have money for dinner,” her mother explains. “I would keep one or two fishes on the side for her. This meant little or no profit on certain days. Both of us earned Rs 240 today and we will keep part of this money as a gift for her.”

Winning a medal brought unexpected costs for her parents, as beside the gift they would have to fund also a feast for the village, to welcome their star. Luckily Tababi’s academy decided to chip in so that every trainee from the academy brought 1 or 2 kg of rice for the village celebration.

This 16-year-old judoka realised that doing well in sports pays and that it could change her family’s life when she heard about other great judokas in the region at her academy. A Sorjit Meitei, one of Tababi’s coaches, remembers her as being a highly-motivated young trainee right from the beginning, who stood out for her skills and dedication. “There were more than 50 trainees at the academy but Tababi would always be the first to start training.”

The only barrier that Meitei noticed in the way of Tababi’s progress was her family’s financial condition. “When I saw her during one of the trials, she was very weak but had quick movement. Her family didn’t want her to get into sports as they could not afford the diet. Sometimes, Tababi would cry after training sessions as she would not be sure about getting the proper diet, which was important for her development. She was fond of fruits and sometimes, all the coaches would contribute money and get her apples from Imphal,” he recalls.

Tababi was hooked to judo quite early in life. She often skipped school to sneak into the Judo Federation of India’s Mayai Lambi Sports Academy and secretly train, because of her family’s opposition to her becoming a judoka.

“I would train in secret without telling them,” said Tababi. “When they first found out, they said that I wasn’t allowed. Sometimes they tried to stop me, but I’d always run away. They would get angry, but I loved judo, particularly the fighting spirit.”

Eventually, her parents would give in as they realised how good she was in the sport. Having won medals in a number of international competitions, including gold at the 2017 Asian Cadet Judo Championships, she now has their full support.

Last year Tababi was drafted in the JSW Sports Scholarship programme and now trains at the JSW centre in Vijayanagar. At YOG she scored 10-0 win over last year’s European Cadet champion Ana Viktorija Puljiz, before losing to Maria Giminez, Pan American champion from Venezuela.

“Tababi’s biggest strength is her feet movement and quick reflexes. She looks to be on the weaker side but is mentally very strong. Giminez has been sponsored by the International Judo Federation and if Tababi can compete more in Europe like her, she can win a medal at the 2024 Olympics,” said former India chief coach Jivan Sharma.

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Sources: The Indian EXPRESS,  Olympic


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