Sports facilities at the grassroots level can make a world of difference for aspiring sportspersons. For example, hockey striker Shivendra Singh, member of the team that won silver at the Commonwealth Games and a bronze at Asiad had to shift base to Etawah in UP in 1999 due to lack of facilities in Gwalior.
The Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Etawah helped him polish his skills, says Shivendra, who later moved to the SAI centre in Mumbai that helped him earn a place in the national squad in 2006. “Playing tournaments in Mumbai opened the floodgates for me.”
Women's 400 metres national record holder Manjeet Kaur is grateful to the SAI centre in Jalandhar. She was spotted by SAI coach Ranjit Singh Sidhu when she was barely into her teens.
“The training centre in school gave students the opportunity to pursue sports in a big way,” recalls Manjeet.
The Punjab runner was a member of the women’s 4x400m relay team that reached the final at the Athens Olympics. Another international track runner Rajwinder Kaur was also spotted as a schoolgirl.
Top archer Tarundeep Rai is a product of a joint venture between SAI and Army. In his formative years, Rai trained at the Gorkha Training Centre, Shillong. Currently there are 9,000 boys and 3,000 girls in SAI centres across the country.
A senior SAI official Joe Sebastian says the role played by the government in laying a strong foundation should be acknowledged although there may be some issues.
Around one-third of 101 medallists at the Delhi Games had been nurtured by SAI. “It shows that SAI schemes are productive,” he says.