Since 2017, former Indian No.1 and World No.38 Ritwik Bhattacharya’s Sports Temple and Rural Training Foundation (START) has been providing free squash coaching to the rural Kalote Mokashi community.
Though the programme has already had considerable success since launch, with START credited with helping the local community with squash and English education and compete nationally, there are hopes that it can have an even greater impact after joining the PSA Foundation‘s network of Squash for Development Organisations (SDO’s) this year.
PSA Foundation SDO’s use squash as a vehicle for social change, alongside nutritional support, additional medical care and more to help underserved populations around the world.
Situated 90 minutes away from Mumbai, India, in Kalote Mokashi village, START provides squash, English language education and balanced nutrition to village residents as well as those from neighbouring communities.
START Founder Bhattacharya, who won a silver medal for India at the 2004 WSF World Doubles Squash Championships, first set up the programme to help introduce the sport he loved to communities with limited sporting infrastructure.
Central to the programme is teaching physical and mental wellness, with training including squash, boxing, Bark Beat (boxing to the beat of music), yoga and general fitness sessions.
START participants are also encouraged to take up volunteer work in their local community, with the children helping at Kalote Animal Trust and taking part in cleaning drives.
Speaking to the PSA Foundation about START, Bhattacharya explained: “We are currently training and coaching 74 indigenous children between ages of 6-17 years from the Nirguda Tribe.
“Alongside a varied programme including squash, we provide high level coaching and equipment. We do not charge the children anything for any of this to ensure that our programme is accessible for all.”
“There have been great strides in the overall development of these indigenous children since we began the programme. Today, the kids we support are ranked nationally in India and are performing at a very high level.
“We have been able to act as a catalyst of change to expand the program and achieve greater heights and overall impact”.
He adds that the support of the business community has been vital in securing funding for the courts.
“We have received major support from IndusInd Bank through their Corporate Social Responsibility and Book a Smile for our All Glass Court [and] we are looking for suitable partners for our expansion and grassroots tournament plan.”
While Chennai, over 1,200 kilometres away in Tamil Nadu, may be recognised as the engine room of Indian Squash, the START Foundation aims to provide another pipeline for young Indian talent from all over the area to enter the competitive circuit.
Bhattacharya explains: “We want to reach out to another four villages over the next two years and 20 villages over the next seven years, reaching approximately 1,200 children and bringing them on the National Circuit.”
“We want to create a platform called the Road to PSA Camps and Small PSA Satellite Tournaments in 2024 to empower them.”