Inspired by the success of PV Sindhu and Sakshi Malik at the Rio Olympics, the country’s public transporter has started to reboot its sports promotion policy in order to “create players of the future”.
Both Sindhu and Malik have a Railways background. Malik is on the rolls of the state-owned transporter, while Sindhu’s father PV Ramana — an Arjuna award winner — is a retired Railways employee. Sindhu began badminton training as an eight-year-old at the Secundrabad-based Indian Railways Signals and Telecommunications Centre.
From former hockey captain Mohammed Shahid and cricket star Mahendra Singh Dhoni to wrestler Sushil Kumar and sprinter PT Usha, numerous people from Railways have left a mark in the sporting arena at the national and international levels.
“Sporting accomplishments of such individuals have mostly been an outcome of their individual effort rather than being a product of a strategised policy on sports promotion,” said a senior member of the Railway Sports Promotion Board. “Possibly, the Railways are better as compared to other government departments, but much more needs to be done.”
At a time when sportspersons from other countries are competing and winning games at age 16-17, the minimum eligibility age of 18 for sportspersons in Railways hinders its efforts to prepare winners.
“A strategy on spotting young boys and girls for training in specific disciplines needs to be worked out. These children must be assured of their induction in government jobs upon reaching the qualifying age,” an official said.
It is also being proposed that sporting infrastructure be located in locations associated with particular sports. “A wrestling academy in Haryana or a hockey Astroturf stadium at Jhansi or Ranchi — which is associated with several hockey greats — would have had made more sense.
“Regrettably, decisions on locating sporting stadiums in the past have mostly been based on political considerations. Such discrepancies need to be addressed,” said another official associated with the policy revamp exercise.
Officials are also pitching for more funds for sports development. Currently, the Railways allocates only around Rs 15 crore from its total budget outlay of Rs 1.25 lakh crore for sports development.