#puneonmymind: Remus D’Cruz, sports management professional, on nurturing talent through sports community centres
Access to sport at a community level is essential to increase the talent pool, no matter what sport we are focusing on. sports like athletics and hockey have seen participation numbers go down and almost stop existing at the community leve. The need of the hour is to ensure children growing up have access to sport at zero cost.pune Updated: Jul 24, 2018 15:09 IST
Over the last few months, the Indian football team won the Hero Intercontinental Cup and the Indian hockey team lost in the finals of the FIH Champions Trophy 2018. Both these teams had no representation from Pune.
In fact, save for Akash Chikte, India’s hockey goal-keeper and Kedar Jadhav in cricket, Punekars playing for the national teams have been few and far in between. For individual sports, the situation has not been a lot different, with Anisa Sayyed, the Kirtane brothers, Gaurav Natekar and Nikhil Kanetkar all names from a bygone era. So, why is it that Pune as a city has not regularly produced sports women and men who go on to represent the nation?
Pune as a commercial hub definitely has the appetite for sport, which is evident with the city having teams in the Indian Super League, Pro Kabbadi League, Premier Badminton League, and we have also had representation in the Indian Premier League. We have seen more than a couple of franchisees requests that Pune be their home venue when the need arose.
The notable exception here is hockey, where Pune is part of the Maharashtra circle and the team plays in Mumbai. Yet, except for the Pro Kabbadi league, we do not have Pune athletes representing these franchisees. Why does this gap exist? Why are we a city that is good for being born a spectator of sport, but not for producing professional sports talent?
I believe, while we do have the opportunities and facilities for world class coaching and infrastructure, what we lack is access to sport at a community level. Yes, we could do with a couple of more world class training facilities, but right now I do not see the current facilities at Balewadi being used to its potential.
Access to sport at a community level is essential to increase the talent pool, no matter what sport we are focusing on.
Over the last few years, besides cricket (which is in good hands), we have seen football generate large numbers at a community level due to the efforts of FC Pune City and the Reliance Young Champs programmes. The school system is critical in encouraging children from the ages of 6 to 15 to play sport and here, we have seen schools like St. Vincent’s, Bishop’s and Loyola’s, to name a few, encourage participation by hosting camps and tournaments.
This has also seen a rise in the number of ‘pay and play’ academies in the city, which increases the talent pool.
However, sports like athletics and hockey have seen participation numbers go down and almost stop existing at the community level.
We have more runners in the above 25-years age group than we have in the under-19 sections. The PSAA organised inter-school athletics and hockey competitions have been non-existent for the last few years and there are teenagers now who have never held a hockey stick, a far cry from the days where hockey was played on the streets of Pune.
The reason for the dwindling numbers is also simply because of lack of space. We have seen public facilities meant for sport and recreation in Pune not being maintained or being used for activities other than sport.
We have also seen a number of schools which have started over the last couple of decades, that have no space to play any sport. Yes, there are commercial establishments available, but not everyone can afford paying Rs 150, or more, an hour to play a sport.
Through my work, I met Johan Bjorkman, Swedish national hockey player, playing in the Hockey India League who learnt his hockey basics on a multi-purpose 5-a-side pitch and did not play on a full- sized pitch till the age of 18; he learnt his trade at a sports community centre.
The need of the hour is to ensure children growing up have access to sport at zero cost.
Sports community centres and similar facilities: They do not have to be of international federation specifications or ‘high tech’. They need to be basic and well-maintained and which can be used for multi-sport all around the year. They have to be present at less than 4 km from every residential area in the city
These need to be owned and managed by the state in partnership with a corporate. They need to have dedicated and well-trained coaches. The Sports Community Centre model has seen success in places like Sweden, Ireland and England, with countries like Saudi Arabia adopting the same.
For us to excel in sports at the highest level, it is important that sport is played in huge numbers at the community level. A society that plays sport will be a society that succeeds in sport.
What the world’s best sportspersons taught me
Roberto Carlos, Brazil World Cup winner
A conversation on the important of access to sports and sporting culture I had with legendary Brazilian World Cup winner, footbal legend, Roberto Carlos. We have all heard about the grassroots programmes for the French, Dutch, German, Belgium and English Football Associations among others, yet Brazil has always had conveyor belt of skill full and technically brilliant players. Roberto Carlos’s explanation is very simple. In Brazil people play football, eat, drink and sleep to survive. There is no plan made to play football. Children gather at the favela ground to play football and meeting at the ground comes as naturally to them as eating or sleeping. The point he was making was that playing football was a community activity. Children have access to a playing field, no matter what the standard of the surface and that has ensured a larger pool of children playing football.
Carl Lewis, athletics legend
Carl Lewis during his visit to India for the World 10K in Bengaluru cited that a lack of good coaches in Track & Field at the school and community level was one of the reasons the USA has seen a decline in dominance; especially the sprint events. He went on to add, that the US soccer federation and the NBA have done a splendid job and the young talent breaking out for football and basketball was far better.
First Published: Jul 24, 2018 15:05 IST