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Game On: The buzz around the Olympics has spiked student interest in sport

Hurdles persist, though, including poor infrastructure, tussles over attendance and tournaments still being held during exam season.

education Updated: Aug 31, 2016 14:48 IST

At the Somaiya Vidyavihar campus, the number of students participating in badminton has jumped from from 1,200 last year to 1,500 this year —a direct result of the Rio Olympics buzz and PV Sindhu’s inspiring medal.

With big-league tournaments and the Olympics buzz, the varsity’s upcoming sports tournaments have seen a 20% rise in participants overall. “For instance, 20 football teams were added this year, bringing the total to 319,” says Uttam Kendre, sports director at MU.

Across the board, sports authorities say interest in badminton, boxing, football and kho-kho has spiked recently, and colleges are trying to keep up with demand and deal with infrastructure and other limitations.

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Until this year, for instance, MMK College in Bandra did not have a kabaddi team. Fuelled by the pro-kabaddi league in July, the college suddenly saw a spike in student interest for the sport.

“We have put together a team of seven to represent MMK at the University of Mumbai’s (MU) kabaddi tournament this year,” says Eustace Saldanha, sports director at the college.

However, hurdles persist. With few practice grounds, an academic system that doesn’t account for sports, and tournaments being scheduled during exams, students complain that they cannot fully focus on their game.

Infrastructure hurdles

The grounds at the university’s ​ground at marine lines and at colleges across the city are equipped with an eye on mainly one or two sports – usually cricket and football. “A common complaint is that Mumbai university promotes cricket more than any other sport,” says BK Singh, sports director at Jai Hind College, Churchgate. “It’s difficult to find grounds to practice sports such as hockey on.”

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Jai Hind College has half-court basketball and volleyball facilities, but Singh says students of other sports are left wanting for space.

The process to hire a sports coach is long-drawn-out too. The sports director at HR College, Churchgate, resigned in July and the college is still awaiting government approval to appoint a new one. Accounting and finance student Vardhan Cheddha, 20, head of the college’s sports council, coordinates practice sessions in the absence of a coach.

“The government has to sanction the hiring of sports personnel at aided colleges,” says MA Khan, registrar at MU. “Several ministries including finance and education need to approve the appointment, so the process is long.”

Many colleges also do not allow students to miss lectures or make up exams when practising for tournaments, which limits their opportunities.

“I represented Maharashtra at the all-India badminton championship in May last year and missed my exams because of it,” says a third-year student at a Vile Parle college, who requested anonymity. The student had to take 14 exams in October 2015 — two semesters’ exams at once — to make up for the exams missed. “I managed to pass in 11 of 14 subjects, and ended up losing a year. Now, I have quit practicing badminton under the pressure of getting 75% attendance and passing in all the subjects,” the student adds.

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The college’s management, appointed two years ago, does not grant attendance for sports participation. “Over the two years, students have struggled to pursue sports,” says the college’s sports director​, who has requested anonymity​. “Even those competing internationally are not given concession.”

MU’s Khan says that granting attendance for sports practice is each college’s prerogative. “Colleges can choose to make sports their priority, or neglect it,” he adds. “It is sad that even for students permitted through sports quota, colleges take action against them for preferring sports over academics. The university cannot intervene in such cases.”

University matches often clash with semester exams or the winter break. “Students, therefore, opt out of the tournaments,” says S Kulkarni, sports director at Sophia College, Peddar Road. “To have serious participation, the university should plan better. Even though we have built a multi-purpose synthetic court on campus, interest in sports has not risen.”

Baby steps

Some city colleges have been trying to address some of these challenges.

St Andrews College in Bandra opened two turfs on campus this year — one each for hockey and football. “This has helped increase participation by 30% compared to last year,” says Januarita D’Souza, sports director of the college. “We have separate coaches for all team sports, who counsel players on diet, among other things.”

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MMK College in Bandra, meanwhile, started providing sports kits to all participants this year, to encourage them. “We also reimburse them for travel and attendance,” says Saldanha.

While Rizvi College does not have a playground, it rents grounds across the city for practice. “We also provide players with ring shoes, jerseys and other equipment. Their commute is taken care of and we compensate for missed attendance. Also, this year, we are going to each class and counselling students to participate in sports,” says Sonawane ​of Rizvi college​.

The clause on attendance has been particularly helpful.“Girls are also encouraged to participate in boxing, and we are all granted attendance for any lectures missed for practice. As a result, this year, 10 of us have signed up for a boxing tournament. Last year, only two people had signed up,” says Pawan Semwal, 22, a boxing enthusiast and third-year Arts student at Rizvi College of Arts, Science and Commerce in Bandra.

First Published: Aug 31, 2016 14:48 IST