Cricketers have long been idolised by millions for their skills—be it for their prowess with the bat, guile with the ball or electrifying reflexes on lush green outfields. Now, as if to repay all that love lavished on them, more and more cricketers are giving back to society. In the recent past, many Indian cricketers, both present and retired, have taken determined steps to bring about changes in lives of people from different strata of society. From underprivileged children and expectant mothers to security forces, these cricketers are making a difference with their contributions.
The latest to join this philanthropic team of cricketers is Suresh Raina and his wife Priyanka Chaudhary, who launched Gracia Raina Foundation (GRF), a self-sustained, non-profit company named after their infant daughter, on May 15, her first birthday. Also last month, on May 5, former India batsman and IPL’s SunRisers Hyderabad mentor V.V.S. Laxman organised a black-tie dinner in Hyderabad to raise funds for his non-profit trust, the VVS Foundation, that signalled its formal launch. The gala was attended by, among others, Yuvraj Singh, a SunRisers member. Yuvraj himself, of course, is into creating awareness about the ‘emperor of all maladies’—cancer. After he gallantly overcame cancer following a detection in 2011 and returned successfully to top-notch cricket—an incredible feat of fortitude—he launched Yuvraj Singh Foundation (YSF), which aims at early detection of cancer, its prevention and a fight against it and the stigma it carries. Yuvraj’s initiatives have received a massive response.
Apart from this trio, many others are actively involved in philanthropic work. Sachin Tendulkar has Apnalaya, M.S. Dhoni is involved with Rhiti Foundation, and so are R. Ashwin (Ashwin Foundation), Gautam Gambhir (Gautam Gambhir Foundation), Sunil Gavaskar (CHAMPS), Virender Sehwag (Shikhar) and M.S.K. Prasad (multiple foundations).
Suresh and Priyanka Raina with children in Chandigarh
Raina, who was a government-nominated Swachh Bharat ambassador, credits Priyanka for the idea of GRF as she was already into social work with a bank that she worked with in the Netherlands before marriage. He says the focus of their work would be on women in rural Uttar Pradesh, the state he represents in domestic tournaments, and in Rajasthan. “There are many rural areas where women have no idea of wellness; they don’t have money. After all, women are not baby-producing machines. Often, women in villages start work just a day after giving birth. We would like them—mother and baby—to spend time together after the child is born. Our focus includes children’s education and medication/vaccination etc,” Raina—one of IPL’s top run-getters—tells Outlook.
“Pregnancy and motherhood are still very fresh [with me]. I have gone through the whole phase of how the journey changes, how life changes and what challenges we [pregnant women] face during that phase. It made us think how women who don’t have enough finances and a support system deal with such challenges,” says Priyanka. She and Raina decided to take the issue seriously, as for them it was easier due to strong family support and financial affluence. “Also, we can afford medical support for some and create awareness about medical facilities available for women. Our focus is on expectant mothers, new mothers and children,” says Priyanka, who also had a stint with a few orphanages in Delhi and Chandigarh.
Down south, the world’s top-ranked Test bowler, Ravichandran Ashwin, has pledged his eyes—a “long term wish” and part of the efforts of the R. Ashwin Foundation he launched in January 2017. The organisation is involved in eye donation, blood donation, road safety, and 100 per cent electoral safety (Ashwin is a brand ambassador of the Tamil Nadu State Election Commission). “I want to make a meaningful difference to people around me. Each initiative of the foundation is carefully thought out. We are ready to partner even with causes outside our main objective as long as we see merit in it,” Ashwin tells Outlook. Former India wicket-keeper M.S.K. Prasad is another cricketer who is encouraging people to pledge their eyes and organs, besides being involved in varied social work among the underprivileged in Andhra Pradesh. Currently chairman of the BCCI’s senior men’s national selection committee, Prasad says he was attracted towards social work since his school days in Guntur, his home town. He recalled how a school for the blind near his own school sparked off his keen interest in alleviating the plight of the downtrodden. “My parents never stopped me,” he recalls. “We [Prasad and his friends] are also into an organ donation programme—asking people to pledge eyes or organs that could be donated after death.”
Prasad’s current focus is on three schools—for the blind, the mentally challenged and slum children in Vijaywada, Vizag, and Guntur—that he has adopted. He and some engineering students who have come forward voluntarily have also taken up a ‘25 Smart Villages’ programme. Under this 45-day programme, currently on course in hand-picked Andhra Pradesh villages, Prasad and his team are developing/upgrading various facilities—roads, civil works, bus stops etc. Prasad, however, rues that due to the unforgiving summer heat the original plan to work in 25 villages might have to be curtailed—it is touching 47 degrees in and around Guntur, he informs. Work in one village, Burjwada, has been completed and the project is currently on in 13 other villages. “About Rs 45,000-Rs 50,000 a month is being spent on food for the people who are working in these villages for the 45-day project,” says the former India Test stumper.
In the gala organised during the just concluded IPL, SunRisers captain David Warner, chief coach Tom Moody, bowling coach Muttiah Muralitharan and many other players and celebrities graced Laxman’s gala dinner for his foundation. Although Laxman had got his foundation registered in 2012, he wanted to make sure that he and his wife Shailaja were headed in the right direction and ensure that their efforts would bear fruit. “I wanted to understand whether what we are doing is making any difference in the lives of children or not. Now, I am convinced that it indeed is making a difference. For the last couple of years, after my retirement, we—my wife Shailaja and I—are working actively and we support close to 100 children. Now, I want to support many more. My ultimate dream is to set up a sports school where underprivileged children would come and study,” Laxman tells Outlook.
Laxman points out that the idea of launching the foundation was entirely Shailaja’s. “I was, anyway, always very passionate about education in sports and my wife has always been very philanthropic in nature. After our marriage, she has supported a lot of underprivileged kids. But after my retirement we decided that we will do it in a structured manner,” he says.
V.V.S. Laxman with cricket trainees, part of his foundation, in Hyderabad
On the other hand, Laxman’s former India teammate, Gautam Gambhir, is passionate about working for the Indian armed forces and doesn’t hide his emotions when it comes to making a statement. The left-handed opening batsman often gives vent to his strong emotions through tweets, which at times elicit reactions from the public.
The Gautam Gambhir Foundation was launched in September 2016, with an aim to work in a structured manner and make a meaningful contribution to the families of armed forces personnel, especially those of martyrs. His other area of focus is underprivileged children, oppressed women—particularly rape victims—and special children. For example, Gambhir provides transport to some of these students. More recently, after 25 CRPF personnel were killed in the Sukma attack in April, Gambhir announced that his foundation would “take care of the entire education expenses of the children” of those personnel.
Gambhir’s erstwhile opening partner, Virender Sehwag, is also into social work. He is currently patron of Shikhar, an NGO that is closely linked with Jamia Millia Islamia, the alma mater of the swashbuckling batsman. And the great Sunil Gavaskar launched a foundation called CHAMPS—which expands to Caring, Helping, Assisting, Motivating and Promoting Sportspersons—along with his wife Marshneil in 1999. Their aim was to assist sportspersons who have “genuine financial” problems. Mary Kom is one of the beneficiaries of CHAMPS’s efforts. Outside India too, there are many former cricketers who have taken up social causes, like Pakistan captain Imran Khan, Glenn McGrath, Ian Botham, Shahid Afridi and Ricky Ponting. Clearly, for many of them, the real game of making their lives meaningful has just begun.