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A tale of rotting structures


Many of Delhi’s sporting facilities built amid much fanfare for the 2010 Commonwealth Games are going to seed, writes Syed Khurram Raza
SYED KHURRAM RAZA | Issue Dated: May 19, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium | Baichung Bhutia | Asian Games | Commonwealth Games | |

On January 10, 2012, Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was packed to the rafters with football fans. They were there to watch former India captain Baichung Bhutia’s farewell match – an Indian XI was taking on Bayern Munich. It was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catch the likes of Muller, Gomez, Robben and Ribbery in live action. So the city’s soccer enthusiasts were willing to brave the stench around them.

Yes, stench. Not a seat, except a few in the VIP area, was clean and the toilets were as filthy as a pigsty. There was no way of telling that as much as Rs 1000 crore had been sunk a little over a year earlier into renovating the stadium for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium was built for the 1982 Asian Games, but since then it has seen very little sporting action with the exception of a few games of cricket and soccer. It is a veritable white elephant that seems to have achieved none of the great things it was projected to when it was constructed. The stadium is today a veritable junkyard, falling apart at the seams.
It is a painful example of how badly India manages its sporting infrastructure. A stadium is built for a particular event and then allowed to degenerate once it has served its immediate purpose. In the absence of a comprehensive sports policy, modern facilities built with the taxpayers’ money lie unused. Aspiring sportsmen have no access to these stadiums. “It is really pathetic. The Delhi government has yet to formalise a state sports policy,” says senior journalist Anil Sagar.

He adds: “When Ajay Maken was the Union sports minister, he had raised some hope and it seemed that Delhi sportspersons would finally be able to use this infrastructure. He had opened all stadiums for young children under the ‘come and play’ scheme. Unfortunately, his tenure was very short.”

The primary purpose of throwing open the stadiums was to impart professional training to beginners and established sportspersons. The objective was optimum utilization of this world class sporting infrastructure. But the ministry has not followed through with the grand plan.

Virender Singh Jaggi, assistant professor, Physical Education, Shyam Lal College, Delhi University and a good hockey player, says: “Due to the 1982 Asian Games and 2010 Commonwealth Games, we have got some world class sporting facilities. But if this infrastructure is not being used to train upcoming young talent then the whole purpose of hosting such big events stands defeated.”

He adds: “The connectivity of Shivaji Stadium is very good, but it is not being used to train young hockey players. The other sports complexes are given on a 40-60 basis to the academies. The academies keep 60 percent of the fee they charge from players and the remaining 40 percent is given to DDA.

He laments that instead of coming out with a plan to encourage children to participate in sports, the government is just doing the opposite. “If things continue like this, then rest assured that we will never see our national flag going up at any international sporting event,” he says.

Inveterate sports lover Mohd Shakir says: “The Delhi government spent around Rs 700 crore on stadiums and the Central government spent about Rs 300 crore on sporting infrastructure during 2010 Commonwealth Games. All the equipment bought for the Games is rotting.”
He believes the problem is societal. In the big cities, sport is often looked down upon. The emphasis is always on scoring high marks in examinations, never on sporting excellence.

Says Shakir: “To encourage children to come to school, free books, uniforms and midday meals given, but there is nothing free for sportspersons. Unless sport is an integral stream of our education system, things will not change and the money that is spent on hosting international sporting events will go waste.”

It is crystal clear that the official attitude towards sport is neither positive nor supportive. Says NK Bhatia, vice president of Delhi Soccer Association: “Ambedkar Stadium is the only football stadium in central Delhi. It is well connected from every corner of the city. The stadium had been favorite of several national and international players but very few matches are being hosted as the rent of the stadium had been increased from Rs 500 to Rs 5000 per day. Now it is becoming difficult for organizations and academies to host any match there. All these steps are to discourage sports lovers.”

It is imperative for the government to come with a clear policy to encourage maximum use of the existing sporting infrastructure in the big cities. Public sector companies should play an important role in funding and hosting major events. If the government does not come out with a concrete sports policy then despite the best infrastructure, our sportspersons will struggle to to make a mark in the international arena.

Shooter Abhinav Bindra, India’s sole Olympic gold medal winner in an individual event, could achieve the impossible because his parents had the financial wherewithal to ensure that he had a personal indoor shooting range.

They also saw to it that Abhinav received the best coaching in the world in his formative years. However, not everybody in India is that lucky and the government cannot abdicate its responsibility in making sure that the best is made available to talented youngsters around the country.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017