After wrestling, athletics needs govt patronage in Uttar Pradesh
The Uttar Pradesh government has already adopted wrestling till the 2032 Olympics but athletics also requires government patronage at least for the next 10 years, according to those associated with sport here.
Recently, Athletics Federation of India termed Uttar Pradesh’s walk-racer Priyanka Goswami’s performance “excellent” among all the Indian athletes at the Tokyo Olympics even though she finished 17th. This wasn’t all as AFI, in its post-Tokyo analysis, also chose Uttar Pradesh as the hub for junior athletes and decided to run its talent search programme along with four other states Punjab, Haryana, Kerala and Karnataka.
Daughter of a “suspended” bus conductor with UP State Road Transport Corporation, Goswami, who along with three throwers Shivpal Singh (javelin, Varanasi), Annu Rani (javelin, Meerut) and Seema Punia (discus, Meerut), represented India at the Summer Olympics, clocked 1 hr 32 minutes 36 seconds, well outside her personal best of 1:28:45, which she had come up with during the National Open Race Walk Championship at Ranchi this February.
Before athletics in Uttar Pradesh could start in an effective manner in the 1980s even though the state body was affiliated to the national federation in 1965, Agra’s Vijay Singh Chauhan had won a decathlon gold at the 1974 Asian Games after becoming the first athlete from the state to participate in the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Almost 20 years later, middle distance runner Bahadur Prasad then went to consecutive Olympics in 1992 at Barcelona and in 1996 at Atlanta. Thereafter, athletes like Mau’s Jatashanker (4x400m relay, Sydney Olympics), Agra’s Ram Singh (marathon, Beijing Olympics), Sudha Singh from Rae Bareli (steeplechase, London and Rio Olympics) and Chandauli’s Sanjay Rai (long jumper), who was the first Indian athlete to cross 8-metre mark at 2000 Sydney Olympics kept trying their luck for a medal at the quadrennial Games.
Over two dozen athletes from the state, including Madhuri Saxena, mother of India’s new middle distance running queen Harmilan Kaur Bains, Gulab Chand, Ajay Kumar Saroj, Shivpal Singh, Seema Punia, Annu Rani, Priyanka Goswami, Hridayanand, Suresh Patel, Suman Devi. Pramod Tewari etc., continued to make their presence felt at the Asian Games, Asian Championships and even at the World Championships.
Surprisingly, a force to reckon with in middle distance, marathon and to some extent in throws, especially hammer and discus, Uttar Pradesh athletes did everything on their own as they didn’t get any support from either the state government or the UP Athletics Association.
In real terms, even now they don’t have adequate international facilities for the sport. The only synthetic track with limited facilities at Lucknow’s Guru Gobind Singh Sports College is far from the reach of the athletes. The other centre in Saifai is almost locked. Two other facilities i.e. at the Sports Authority of India centre and at the 35th Battalion, PAC Stadium in the state capital, are not meant for everyone.
Former India coach in throws, Rustam Khan, too, does not have adequate facilities at Kaushambi, but his sports stadium is flooded with over 100 athletes, including 60 from Haryana, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh.
“It’s been too hectic for me nowadays as I have over two dozen javelin throwers, including 8-10 youngsters in the age group of 7-12 and they all want to follow the passion of Neeraj Chopra,” said Khan under whose tutelage four Indians had medals, including two in javelin and two in hammer at the 2008 Youth Commonwealth Games.
He, however, said that for the youngsters he has managed javelin of 300g and 400g, whereas 15 other seniors are training with either their own or government sponsored javelins at the centre.
“We need to have imported javelins in an adequate numbers and even in the past, we had this facility when I was posted at Jaunpur last year,” said Khan, a sports officer with UP Sports Directorate.
UP’s first Olympian athlete Vijay Singh Chauhan, too, advocates facilities for athletes in the state.
“If we had adequate facilities in our time, we could have won many medals at Olympics. Even now, athletes in Uttar Pradesh struggle for facilities and even then we have good results at the national and international levels,” he said.
He supported the request of the UP Athletics Association to the UP government to adopt athletics for the next 10 years.
“I have been told that there is a mad rush of young athletes, seeking training in throws, especially in javelin, since Neeraj Chopra’s success at the Tokyo Olympics, at various locations across the state and the government should cash in on this enthusiasm by adopting the sport as it has adopted wrestling,” said Chauhan, who was named the “Iron Man of Asia” for his superlative show at the 1974 Asian Games.
“Uttar Pradesh has no dearth of talent in athletics and has produced athletes who have brought laurels for the state and for the nation too. Unfortunately, these athletes have no modern facilities to train,” UPAA’s secretary PK Srivastava writes to CM Yogi Adityanath while urging the government to adopt the sport for the next 10 years.
“The limited existing facilities in the state are can be used for basic training purposes. Uttar Pradesh needs at least 10 tracks at places like Meerut, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Prayagraj, Kanpur, Lucknow, Aligarh, Moradabad, Ayodhyay, Jhansi, etc,” said Srivastava.
While presenting a comparative study in support of his demand to the CM, Srivastava mentioned the availability of sport facilities at Haryana (20 tracks) and Kerala (10 tracks), said that UP’s future in athletics was bright, but it needs the government’s patronage now.