Eight-year-old Sandhu (name changed) travels from his Pitampura home with his mother — and at times unaccompanied — to Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium every day to seek professional training in hockey. For him, it is his passion that may one day translate into a career.
“I have just begun my training but my coach says that I am quite good. My parents want me to become a doctor but I really want to play for the National hockey team,” said Sandhu.
Like Sandhu, there are thousands of children who have been given an impetus by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) through “Come and Play” scheme which was launched in 2011. Last year, close to 12,000 students had registered for the scheme. However, this time, the number is expected to touch 20,000.
While the students have to pay a nominal fee depending on the school they study in, the coaches are enthralled at the surging enrollment rates that the scheme has received recently.
“Anyone between the age group of eight and 25 can come here and play. Most of the children are school students and some go to college,” said Khushdeep Kaur, hockey coach at stadium.
At the moment, there are about 2,039 children enrolled at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, 1,546 at the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex, 1,544 at Major Dhyan Chand
National Stadium, 904 at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Ranges and 532 at the Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Swimming Pool Complex.
The Sports Ministry too is pulling out all stops to make these sports facilities widely available to children. “Last year, we faced a shortage of coaches. Therefore, this time, we have made it mandatory for those studying at Netaji Subhash National Institute of Sports,
Patiala, to complete their training here, depending on which they will be given their degrees. Now, we have 80 coaches who are training the children at the complexes. For women players, we will speak to the police to ensure that safety measures are in place so that they can come and play,” said Ajay Maken, Union sports minister.