Amid the clamour to celebrate India’s best-ever Olympic show, a visit to the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium in Bawana near New Delhi serves as a reality check. Here tomorrow’s stars live and train in conditions that at best is, well, depressing.
These wrestlers, judokas and boxers and handball players are part of the 25-year-old Special Area Games (SAG) scheme run by the Sports Authority of India (SAI).
Their lodgings are next to a two-metre wide and 100m long sewage drain. It was hooded by a plastic sheet last year but overflows during heavy rain.
To say that it stinks would be understating the obvious. And that’s not all; often, after an intensive training session, the trainees get dinner cooked hours before.
The centre is under the jurisdiction of Sanjeev Sharma, SAI’s deputy director. He said: “The drainage has been covered. Washrooms are also being renovated.”
Assistant-director Ajit Singh had a different take. Blaming the SAI head office for the current plight, Singh said top officials have ignored the scheme.
“Several requests to improve the living conditions have been turned down by the main office,” he said.
Blaming it on CWG
Things started going downhill in 2007-2008 when the trainees were shifted to Bawana from New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi Stadium Complex which had to be renovated for 2010 Commonwealth Games.
That, says a boxer in the scheme, proved to be a turning point.
“The decision not to shift us back to the IG stadium despite requests has nearly ruined our career,” said a young boxer who didn’t want to be named for fear of reprisals.
In 2008-2009, he had won bronze in the junior national championships. Now, he is a nowhere man.
He is convinced that the shift in location had everything to do with the downslide in fortunes.
Tired of the pathetic conditions, the trainees officially requested to be shifted to the IG Stadium last year. There’s little chance of that happening.
“There is no space for a residential wing (at the IG stadium) at present. Hence, it will be difficult to accommodate those in Bawana. But we are trying our best to sort out the residential problem,” said SAI secretary Gopal Krishna.
Limba Ram, India’s first archery icon, is a product of this scheme launched in 1987.
Over time, officials’ apathy led to a steady decline in performance and the number of trainees. For the past two years, even recruitment has stopped.
The numbers tell their own tale. Bawana now has six trainees for handball, four each for boxing and judo and a solitary wrestler.
Two decades ago, the number of trainees in archery alone were over 50! Archery’s since been discontinued but if the SAI has noticed this huge dip in numbers, it isn’t showing.
The residential wing lacks adequate ventilation and the bathrooms proper facilities. Often trainees are seen bathing in the open and fetching water from a distance.
Also conspicuous by its absence is a modern gymnasium. And those who live nearby prefer getting food from home.
Forget medical facilities, something as basic as an ice pack isn’t available, a judoka said, adding “no one is bothered.”
Anybody who can has quit the scheme, said a trainee. And till they find an alternative, the rest continue to live in hell.