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Indian Women’s Rugby sensation and Simply Sport Athlete - Sandhya Rai talks with Urja Mehta

The athlete launchpad program (TAL) is a long-term program that has been created to identify and support the right sporting talents in their quest to excel and ultimately represent India. This program supports grassroots-level athletes with an aim to qualify or represent India.

One such success story of the TAL program is Sandhya Rai. She is an Indian rugby player and has represented India at both the junior and senior levels having captained the U-18 girl's team. She is the only Indian among the 16 ‘unstoppable’ women players shortlisted from Asia, part of Asia Rugby’s Rugby unstoppable campaign. In an interview with one of our members from SSF, Sandhya reflected on her journey of how she got into the sport.

Sandhya represented her college LPU at the Khelo India Universities Games and won the 7’s rugby championships. At the Interstate national 7’s rugby championships Sandhya represented Bengal state which won the runner-up. Sandhya is currently training at the national camp.

The Interview:

Urja Mehta: Can you tell me a little about how you got into the sport and your journey till now?

Sandhya: My name is Sandhya Rai, I am from a small village in Siliguri, West Bengal and I used to play football with girls in my village. I joined rugby in 2013. In my school we used to play athletics and there was a church in my village, and the father there was friends with the owner of the Jungle Crows club, so because of him, we started practicing rugby. The Jungle Crows were headed by Paul sir and they took our interviews to join the club. After playing rugby for a year, my interest grew, I made friends, and it became fun to play. Then we got to play club in Orissa, it was fun to go out of the state, travel by train, and , see a new place. So then I continued. I played state, then I was called to the India camp. First I played in the junior u-18, then senior camp and 5 girls were chosen from my village. First villagers were against us playing, but then after we represented India they looked up to us and supported us, and our name came in the news and paper, so we got so much support. We continued playing because we got so much respect and support and we were able to see other cities and step out of our own which was also a good thing. Now I have played for India 8 times, u-16, u-18, and senior level. Currently, I am practicing in the camp in Bhubaneshwar because we have a tournament in Indonesia in August.

Urja Mehta: How did you hear about SSF?

Sandhya: There was a church in our village where there was a father and he was friends with the owner of Jungle Crows (Paul sir), so the father told him about the girls in our village who played football and athletics, so he came and took us to start practicing.

I heard about SSF while playing there through our founder of the Khelo Rugby foundation, who started it.

Urja Mehta: How was the panel of mentors, were you able to connect with them easily? Were they easy to talk to?

Sandhya: Like any other athlete who wants to join the TAL program I had to go through the procedure of submitting my application form and then getting interviewed by Aditi Mutatkar and Darshan NK who are the mentors of this program. Once I completed the onboarding as an athlete with SSF, I connect daily with Shashidhar Sir who is the coordinator for the TAL program. Whatever sessions I have lined up for the day, he messages me a day in advance and helps me out with everything. All the mentors are very helpful and easy to talk to.

Urja Mehta: How do you think the program has benefitted you? Has it changed your journey in the sport?

Sandhya: I have never experienced anything like this before. Earlier I would always struggle to save up for a new kit, or equipment but now all of it is taken care of by the TAL program. I never focused on nutrition and diet because I was unaware of them but now I have a guided plan of when to eat, what to eat, and how much to eat which has positively impacted my performance. The mental health sessions also have benefitted benefited me. I have seen a huge change in performance from before, the mental health sessions, in my body, mentally also I am more stable. Earlier when we lost we never knew how to cope with it so we would feel sad and have depressive symptoms but now we know how to cope with it. If my day doesn’t go well in the camp then I know how to deal with it effectively.

Urja Mehta: How was the selection process? Was it easy or complicated?

Sandhya: It was very straightforward and easy.

Urja Mehta: Would you recommend other athletes to apply for TAL as well? Why?

Sandhya: I don’t think I would have gotten these facilities and opportunities if it was not for TAL. From my village, I am the only girl who has gotten these opportunities. I surely recommend other athletes to try and apply for this program.

Urja Mehta: What are your future plans? When do you plan on playing till?

Sandhya: Currently, I am at Bhubaneshwar, where I am preparing for a tournament that will be held in Indonesia in August. I definitely want to continue playing the sport because I love it but I am also studying BBA Sports Management at LPU so that I can eventually get a job to earn money and support my family as well and because it will open up other avenues in sport for me as well.

About Simply Sport

Simply Sport is a sports policy research & development organization based in India. Simply Sport’s vision is to promote sports as an effective tool for the development of the nation. It focuses on policy research, grassroots development, and the use of technology in sports. To subscribe to Simply Sports Newsletters, Research & Articles, please write to You can follow Simply Sport on the Twitter handle @_SimplySport for more sports-related content.

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