Despite 7 medals, deaf wrestler Virender Singh struggles to make ends meet
Virender Singh, who can neither hear nor speak, is one of India’s most accomplished wrestlers, having won seven international medals, including three golds.
Popularly known as Goonga Pehalwan, Singh earns a living working as a junior coach. He earns just Rs 28,000 a month and can neither afford a house nor a car.
His story shows how hard disabled sportspersons have to struggle as they cope with an indifferent state and sporting federations, who have failed to adequately support their talents.
Singh never went to school because of his impairment. When he was 10 years old, his father Ajay Singh, who was also a wrestler, brought him to Delhi for treatment of a foot injury.
Based on a friend's advice, he admitted Virender to a school for the deaf and speech impaired. At the same time, the young boy also started training under his father and uncle.
He won his first gold at the 2005 Deaflympics in Australia, where he had to spend Rs. 70,000 out of his own pocket. At that time, the government did not give cash awards for disabled sport stars. So, while other Olympic winners received more than Rs. five crore from various governments, states and sports associations, Virender has received almost nothing for years.
Virender had to participate in village fights to support himself. It was only in 2016, after a documentary was made on him, that Singh was awarded the Arjuna Award, one of the country’s highest sporting honours.
He has just returned after winning another gold at the Deaflympics in Turkey, where India won 4 medals, its best-ever performance.