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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Hope vs reality: Will India play ball?

The brainchild of an Olympic medallist and an Armyman, the project is aspirational at this stage with many challenges ahead to raise its level.

other-sports Updated: Jan 29, 2019 08:46 IST
Abhishek Paul
Abhishek Paul
New Delhi
The Khelo India youth Games is currently targeting age groups of Under-17 and Under-21.
The Khelo India youth Games is currently targeting age groups of Under-17 and Under-21.(Milind Saurkar/HT Photo)

Nithin Balakumar, a bespectacled under-21 boy from Tamil Nadu, clocked a personal best of 10.76 seconds in the 100m to emerge fastest at the Khelo India Youth Games at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune recently. The effort was still 0.29 seconds slower than the Under-20 national record achieved by Gurindervir Singh in 2018.

That Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Union Sports and Youth Affairs minister and a 2004 Olympic silver medallist in shooting, has termed the Khelo India Games an ‘aspirational platform’ gives hope that the likes of Nithin will improve in future. Indian sport is, however, as much about hope as the ironies.

The case in point being Augustine Yesudas whose five-year old record was broken by Gurindervir at the 16th Federation Cup national junior athletics championship with a timing of 10.47 seconds. Yesudas had clocked 10.57 seconds in 2013 to set the then 100m national junior record.

One would have expected Yesudas to continue in the same vein at the senior level but it was not to be. At the 2018 Fed Cup National Senior Athletics Championships, he timed 11.31 seconds in 100m heats and failed to qualify for the final!

Yesudas is not an exception. West Bengal’s Chandan Bauri in 2015 equalled the junior 400m national record of 46.99 seconds, made by Uttar Pradesh’s Virender Kumar Pankaj in 2006. Bauri even joined the 2016 Rio Olympics camp but subsequent injuries have seen him fade away. These cases abound Indian sport.

Aspiration vs result

When aspiration is the motto, then one should look at the highest level. Noah Lyles of the United States, who won the 100m at 2016 U-20 World Championship, missed a majority of 2017 due to a hamstring injury. He returned in 2018 and became only the second man after Usain Bolt to clock sub-19.70 seconds in 200m on four occasions in a single season!

While the athlete monitoring system and sponsorship amount in the US is miles ahead of India, there is nothing wrong in aspiring for the best, especially with Khelo India platform getting unprecedented publicity that other domestic multi-sport events have hardly witnessed ever. Apart from improved facilities, it is the follow-up system for any talented young athlete that helps create a larger pool for big events.

Khelo India plans to fund 1,000 young athletes per year with Rs five lakh each for a maximum of eight years. The progress of the athletes will be monitored and based on that, they will be ‘weeded out’ or will continue to get further financial help. However, what Khelo India’s notification on its website doesn’t mention is what happens to any athlete under its programme in case of a serious injury.

There is a medical insurance cover of Rs 5 lakh and personal accident policy of Rs 25 lakh each for the selected athletes but whether Khelo India will look after the long-term recovery of the athlete or ensure he/she returns on track is not mentioned.

“Our aim is to nurture the athletes and not reject them. In case of small injury we will look after the rehabilitation. We have got all athletes insured. But in case of a serious injury where the athlete may be out for a long period, decision needs to be taken by an expert panel. There is no clear cut rule as of now. We are still working on it,” AK Bansal, head of Talent Identification at the Khelo India Youth Games said.

Funding process

Athletes can avail the Rs five lakh grant per year only if they join any of the 54 accredited academies. It includes SportsAuthority of India or state centres and some private institutes. If the athletes join non-accredited academies they will be paid Rs 1.2 lakh per year out of pocket expenses.

However, confusion remains in some quarters about how the five lakh will be paid to the athletes.

“A lot many athletes think that they will be paid Rs five lakh in cash. But what is being done is that they are being given the chance to train in our accredited academies and the expenses are being covered. In cash they are getting Rs 1.2 lakh per year,” clarified a top official associated with the Khelo India programme.

The number of athletes joining the Khelo India funding programme were also quite low last year.

“Last year out of 1518 athletes, 550 joined the Khelo India programme mainly because it was offered mid-term. A lot many athletes who were training in different academies did not want to join our accredited academies in the middle of the year,” Bansal said.

The path ahead

The Khelo India youth Games is currently targeting age groups of Under-17 and Under-21. The youngest athlete to win a medal at the 2019 Youth Games was West Bengal’s 10-year-old shooter Abhinav Shaw.

The Khelo India Youth Games are not the only competition that is targeting this age category. The National School Games also have three age categories U-14, U-17 and U-19. Some athletes from the National School Games were also included in the Khelo India Funding Scheme.

With a significant percentage of the sport budget allocated to Khelo India – Rs 520.09 crore out of a total budget of Rs 2,196.36 crore – a better planning regarding unearthing new pool of talent is desirable.

While established stars like Commonwealth Games medallist shooter Mehuli Ghosh and Asian Games finalist swimmer Srihari Nataraj did raise the profile of Khelo India 2019, the whole purpose of conducting a well-organised youth event will be better served if fresh faces are given preference rather than known names in order to broadbase the talent pool. With the huge resources available to Khelo India, focusing on the untapped talent would be better.

First Published: Jan 29, 2019 08:30 IST

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