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A few years ago, she represented India in football as a defender bringing laurels for the country but now poverty has forced the young woman to run a betel shop in a village in Odisha’s Kendrapara district to earn a living.
Twenty three-year-old Rashmita Patra, who has her small shop in Aul about 120 km east of Bhubaneswar, is still passionate about football but says she is left with no other option to add to the income of the family comprising of her husband and a baby.
"Football is in my blood but poverty has nipped my career in the bud,” she told HT.
Rashmita, daughter of a daily wage labourer, started playing football at the age of 12. Soon two coaches Chitta Ranjan Patra and Pramod Patra spotted her talent and began training her.
After participating in several state and national level tournaments, she donned national colours in the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for under-16 women’s qualifier at Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia in 2008.
Two years later, she helped Odisha win the national women’s football for under-19 in Cuttack. In 2011, she again played for India in senior AFC qualifying round at Dhaka and helped the country win an invitational series in Bahrain.
Rashmita was also a member of the Odisha team that won the senior women’s football championship in Bhillai in 2012.
But all these achievements did not fetch any reward for the poor girl, who could not finish school.
"I could not appear for Class 10 exam as it coincided with my camp for the AFC qualifier for Malaysia," Rashmita said.
She even had to quit the sports hostel in Bhubaneswar in 2009 due to family’s financial problems. In 2013, she got married to a man with no fixed job.
"It is sad that Rashmita could not get a job because of her lack of educational qualification. Her story is typical of a potential talent from a poor family. Such talents get wasted as the country does not have backup plan to nurture them," Chitta Ranjan Patra, her former trainer who is now a state coach in Cuttack, said.
Odisha sports and youth service minister Sudam Marandi told HT he had asked officials to inquire about Rashmita.
"The state government announces several facilities including cash awards for sports persons from time to time. I will try to take steps to ensure she comes back to the game," Marandi said.