May 31, 2007

A well-deserved recognition for Sir Ian

By H Natarajan

Ian Botham is set to join the exalted ranks of Sir Don Bradman, Sir Garry Sobers, Sir Len Hutton, Sir Jack Hobbs and, of course, his good friend, Sir Vivian Richards, as a cricketing knight. Botham, according to a report in Daily Mirror is to be conferred with the knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours next month.

But what sets Botham apart from all the other knights named above is that recognition for him comes not for his humungous achievements on the international cricket arena but as a relentless activist over two decades for the cause of leukemia research.

Botham, who has subjected himself to 11 torturous charity walks spanning several thousand miles over 22 years to raise money in excess of £10 million for leukemia research, is the symbol of hope for the families of children suffering from the disease. The last of his many walks came in 2006 when he was past 50.

Botham’s noble cause took shape after a visit to a hospital in Taunton, Somerset, where he saw innocent children dying of leukemia. The mortality rate of children succumbing to the dreaded disease then was a high 80%, but since Botham’s efforts to generate funds for leukemia research, the rate has come down to 20%.

By virtue of their stature and magnetism, sports celebrities have the power to enlighten people on social causes as also generate funds for them. Two notable cricketers who have dedicated their lives for charitable causes are Imran Khan and Steve Waugh. Imran built the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital & Research Centre (SKMCHRC) in Lahore. The hospital is named in the memory of Imran’s mother Shaukat Khanum who was diagnosed with cancer and later succumbed to the diseases. The SKMCHRC is the only medical facility in Pakistan that provides free treatment to cancer patients who are unable to afford the expenses.

Imran has successfully used his connections and charisma to get celebrities like Lady Diana, Liz Hurley and Sushmita Sen, to name a few, to support the charitable cause.

But what Steve Waugh did was even more laudable. The cause he supported, after a life-changing opportunity with Mother Theresa, had no emotional link with a family member of his nor were the recipients of his munificence from his own country. Waugh supported a cause in India – Udayan, a leper children's colony in Kolkata. He raised $A 250,000 for the Udayan Children’s Fun that enabled 44 young girls to live for a year in Udayan in loving and caring ambience. Waugh is a revered man in India, a welcome son in Kolkata and a doting Godfather, an angel from Australia, for the inmates of Udayan.

Waugh has also been supportive to other charitable causes like children suffering from cancer, but it’s his sustained work for the cause of the leper children is what has won him acclaim and admiration the world over.

Indian cricketers, too, have supported charities but few have been involved with something as monumental as Ian Botham’s effort for leukemia research of Steve Waugh’s effort that has seen him making several trips from Australia to Kolkata. Sachin Tendulkar supports sponsors 200 under-privileged children of Apnalaya, a NGO with which his mother-in-law is associated with. But Tendulkar and most of the high-profile Indian cricketers prefer to remain in the background for fear of being inundated with all kinds of requests – including ones from people who are out to make a fast buck by leveraging their celebrity status.

But one Indian cricketer who has publicly lent more than his name for a social cause is Anil Kumble. The Karnataka leggie has pledged his organs to be donated after his death following a request from the Bangalore-based Foundation for Organ Retrieval and Transplant Education (FORTE).

Kumble is aware that when it comes to translating the noble thoughts into action, the grief that the family members suffer at that time prevents it from carrying through. That is why he says the donor’s family has to be educated in advance to ensure that the pledge is meaningful.
The sports world outside of cricket has seen some of the biggest money-spinners of sports setting up foundations for public causes: The Tiger Woods Foundation focuses on projects to help disadvantaged youngsters become better people; the Lance Armstrong Foundation lends its support for the fight against cancer and The Roger Federer Foundation supports innovative projects operated by local relief organisations in selected countries of the world – projects that would otherwise lack sufficient funding.

Then there is the very large-hearted Michael Schumacher, who donated $10 million for the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake victims - his donation surpassed that of any other sports person, many worldwide corporations and even some countries. As a special ambassador of the UNESCO, he has donated 1.5 million Euros to the organization. Schumacher has supported, among other causes, a hospital for child victims of war in Sarajevo that cares for amputees, a centre for helping homeless street children obtain an education, clothing, food, medical attention, and shelter in Lima, Peru. In fact, he is believed to have donated at least $50 million in the last four years.

If organizations like Infoys, Wipro and Tatas have consistently shown corporate social responsibility, then the likes of Ian Botham, Imran Khan Steve Waugh and Michael Schumacher have displayed laudable celebrity moral responsibility to serve the cause of the less-privileged in our society.