There was a time when swimming in Delhi was synonymous with the Tokas community, a semi-urban group residing in Munirka village. The most famous son of the community, Khajan Singh Tokas — the 1986 Seoul Asian Games silver-medallist — will today vouch that the golden days of Delhi swimming are over and the focus of all aquatic activity has shifted to the South.
A city, which produced no less than two-dozen international swimmers and divers in the 80s and 90s, cannot boast of even a handful today despite ultra-modern facilities at the SP Mukherjee Complex, refurbished for the 2010 Commonwealth Games at a cost of Rs 377 crore.
When the Olympic-sized indoor pool came into existence less than two years back, there was hope that the Northern region would regain its pride of place and the glory days would return. But the dream, it seems, died a premature death.The indoor pool had given rise to hope that swimming activities, which were earlier restricted to a few months, would go on unimpeded, come rain or snow. "Despite having an Olympic-sized pool, serious swimmers can only train between May and September. For the rest of the year, they toil in the gym or playfields to keep fit as the heating system is no longer operational," said a leading swimmer.
The CWG had given them hope that finally they would be able to train all-year round. But the heating system collapsed last year in December and no effort has been made to revive it. “It is not functional because of which swimmers cannot train all year round,” conceded a Sports Authority of India (SAI) official.
Before the complex was refurbished, a number of international events, like the Asia-Pacific and a host of national events and camps, used to be held and the place was abuzz with activity. Today, barring a state meet and short-duration national camp, nothing has happened in the last 19 months.
Delhi’s most decorated swimmer, Richa Mishra, had to shift base to Bangalore last December in frustration to prepare for the Olympics after the heating system stopped functioning. “I haven’t got my rhythm back,” she says. Mishra is not the only one who has left for Bangalore. All top swimmers, including Sandeep Sejwal who achieved the Olympic ‘B’ qualification mark, now reside in the southern city.
The heating problem apart, they were hampered by the absence of the electronic timing system, which was removed after the CWG. “It was on rent. If we want to organise an international event, we will first have to spend at least R2 crore to install the system,” says Swimming Federation of India CEO Virendra Nanavati.
A CBI inquiry ordered by sports minister, Ajay Maken, is pending. In less than three months’ time, the complex will go into extended hibernation again and the swimmers will have to accept their fate.
SAI administrator, Satyajit Sankrit, has no answers. “I don’t have the details as I am on medical leave. Speak to the higher authorities.”