As we keenly follow the Tour de France — and marvel at the cycling culture in Europe and elsewhere in the world — we conveniently forget that India too could have become a destination for major cycling events after the Commonwealth Games. But the brakes applied due to official apathy pushed the sport further down the popularity charts.
All this despite the Capital boasting of a state-of-the-art indoor facility built at a cost of Rs. 150 crore — right behind the seat of power, the Delhi State Assembly. More than 19 months after the doors of the country’s most expensive cycling velodrome, inside the Indira Gandhi Sports Complex were closed, they are opened only for inspection. And that too is rare.
The facility was supposed to trigger an enthusiasm for cycling, not just in Delhi but elsewhere too. But a visit to the imposing complex is a despairing experience, with cyclists training in the open on cemented surface, leaving them vulnerable to serious injuries.
Parmod Sharma, an official of the Delhi Cycling Association, tells us that the sport has actually seen a drastic decline after the CWG. “We had 30-odd riders in 2008. The number has come down to a handful today as most of them have switched to road racing.”
The International Cycling Union (UCI) president, Pat McQuaid, had said after the CWG that it wouldn’t take long for India to become a hot destination for international competitions, given that it is a Category 1 velodrome. But until today, not even a domestic competition has been held.
“Since the facility hasn’t been used for long, the chances of the wooden track deteriorating because of the damp and humid Delhi weather and the seepage of rain water are very strong,” says former national-level rider Suman Yadav.
“It’s mandatory to maintain low temperature inside the velodrome so that the timber track doesn’t get spoilt,” adds Suman, now a coach, obviously referring to the air-conditioning, which has not been switched on since the CWG.
Layers of dust
Days after the Games ended, contractors, eager to remove the signages, damaged portions of the imported track and the railings. Not much is known about the state of the wooden track now, as it remains under a thick plastic cover. But the heavy layer of dust and pigeon-droppings on the covers tells the tale of utter neglect. Not to forget the oppressive summer heat followed by the humidity, which could be wreaking havoc on the track.
HT noticed heavy water-logging on the western entrance to the velodrome, and seepage on the walls. “Heavy rain pushes water dangerously close to the track and there is a serious problem of seepage on the western side,” said an official who was part of the SAI-CPWD team, which inspected the complex on July 13.
The high cost of operating the stadium is perhaps why the velodrome is kept under lock and key. “Operating the velodrome for eight hours a day costs Rs. 1 lakh,” said a SAI official. “We haven’t earmarked funds for that.”
The stadium administrator, RK Raghav, said he wasn’t authorised to comment on the issue. With India scheduled to host a continental competition in March next year, SAI will be forced to throw open the doors again for the national camp, due to commence at the end of this month. Only an inspection then can help one assess the level of damage to the state-of-the-art facility.