India's doubles exponent Rohan Bopanna on Tuesday launched an ambitious scholarship project, aimed at providing tennis and academic education simultaneously to 60 kids at an annual cost of Rs 10 lakh each. The scholarship programme, described as a "game changer in Indian tennis" will be run through a collaboration between Rohan Bopanna Tennis Academy (RBTA) and The Sports School, which will be the base of the training centre in Bengaluru.
Initially, kids in three categories - Under-12, Under-14 and Under-16 - can apply for the scholarship through the School website. They will be assessed after the lockdown and the selected players will then join the residential programme. "I am looking at giving to kids what I did not have when I was a junior player. It will be a game changer in Indian tennis. Parents are always worried about the education part, so we are proving both," Bopanna said during the online press conference.
In the first year, only those players who have an AITA ranking, can apply for the scholarship. "We will take 20 kids in each category. This is giving back to sport. This is probably the biggest scholarship programme in the world. No one gives scholarship with 100 percent sponsorship to 60 kids at one go. Even in the US college tennis programmes, it's 70 or 80 percent sponsorship," said Bopanna, India's only fourth player to have won a Grand Slam title. Balachandran Manikkath, the coach of India's top singles player Prajnesh Gunneswaran, will be the Head coach at the centre with six other coaches. "We will keep monitoring the selected kids. There will always be someone who will be knocking on the doors. If someone is not up to the mark, his place can go to someone else," Balachandran said.
The selected kids will have access to seven flood-lit hard courts apart from services of nutritionist, dietician, physio and a sports psychologist. Bopanna insisted that he is "not competing with anyone" when asked if he is setting an example on how to do things without the help of the government. The AITA has been trying to set up a Centre of Excellence at DLTA for some years but the efforts have not fructified for several reasons. "We only want betterment of Indian tennis. The pure objective is to help the kids. We have a vision in place and we want to give opportunities to the players."
Dr. Sankar UV, Director of The Sports School, said if someone is not selected but still wants to be in the programme, they can join by paying the fee which is Rs 6.25 lakh for beginners, Rs 8 lakh for the intermediate level and Rs 10 lakh for the advance level. Sankar said they will follow CBSE syllabus up to 10th standard and the Karnataka State Board syllabus for 11th and 12th standard. He also informed that the School also runs programme in five more sports including badminton, football and basketball.