A recent post on Facebook by Indian pole vaulter, Sureka Renjith, brought our attention to the sorry state of affairs at Chennai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, fondly known as the Marina Arena. The photos of the Pole Vault Safety mattress which is used for practice showed it in tatters and in a degraded condition.
Sureka holds the current national record of 4.15 m set at National Open Championships held at New Delhi in 2014. She is the first Indian female pole vaulter to clear 4.00 metres. She is married to the triple jumper and Indian National record holder Renjith Maheshwary. A year after her maternity leave, when Sureka returned to practice and to polish her skills, she was appalled to see the state of the pole vault mattress at the JN Stadium. Even when it was new, seven years back, it was not up to the standard and quality, but the athletes had to practice on it. All sports equipment need a certification from the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF ). But most of the equipment available in the Marina arena are of substandard quality that has no certifications. As a result, it poses a great risk and increases the chances of an injury to the athlete.
A visit to the stadium not only confirmed the facts mentioned above but also brought to notice many other damages and ill-maintenance of the stadium.
About the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Chennai is a multipurpose stadium and has a capacity of 40,000. It hosts football matches and athletic competitions. The complex also houses a multipurpose indoor stadium with a seating capacity of 8,000 which hosts volleyball, basketball, table tennis games. Besides, the stadium is also used for functions and concerts.
In 2013, Government of Tamil Nadu upgraded the synthetic athletics track, football turf, floodlights and the upgrading added a warm up track north of the stadium at the cost of Rs 33.65 crore (US$4.9 million). Many state level and national level athletes train in the stadium. The state police group, veteran group athletes, junior state medallists, senior state medallists train here. Around 46 different athletics sports are currently being taught over here.
After the last Indian Super League (ISL) tournament which got over in December 2016, the tracks were left damaged by the regular entry of trucks for the field’s maintenance. These tracks are left unattended even after three months and pose a hazard to the athletes training on it.
The long jump pit is uneven with the sand unlevelled and is the dwelling ground to some stray animals who have dug holes in it. Ideally, it requires to be covered with a rubber sheet when not in use, to protect it against wind and rain. It needs a regular ground man to maintain the pit and to keep the sand contained inside. Many facilities and equipment are available at the stadium but, the main woe is the poor maintenance.
When Sports Possible questioned the Regional Senior Manager and Youth Welfare officer of the JN stadium, Mr R. Gopinathan, about the state of the pole vault mattress, he said it that the new mattress has been reserved for competition purpose. When asked about the sad state of the present mattress he said, “It’s the athletes themselves who are damaging it by using it to sit on. And who is asking them to practice on it every day? If it is used for everyday practice then, obviously, it will not sustain. Just because it is available for free does not mean they can use it roughly.” On being asked about the damage on the tracks he said that he was not aware of it and the athletes can write to them and the same will be looked into.
Such a callous attitude and ignorance of the authorities just reflects on the poor training facilities available for athletes. On speaking further to Surekha about the condition of the stadium she said, “Delhi has a better facility with IAAF standards and has spare mats, and in case of any damage, the replacement is immediate. I was fortunate enough that I could go to Delhi to train, but not everyone can afford that. I have already achieved a record of 4.15 meters. Another 5 cm and can win a gold at the Asian championship. With some better facilities, our athletes here also stand a good chance. We help each other to train and share our national and international level experiences with the upcoming athletes to motivate them.”
Surekha still awaits the cash incentive for her Gold medal win from the women’s Pole Vault at National Games 2015, held in Kerala. An amount of Rs 5 lakh was promised to the gold medal winners. All the necessary documents have been submitted to the officials at the Sports Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT) but this amount has not yet been released. There were bidders from other states too, and all those amounts have been given except the one from the home state.
Tamil Nadu has been far lagging behind when it comes to motivating their players and the state does not have a proper Pole Vault coach. There is one in Tirunelveli and one here in Chennai. There are currently 11 athletes training for pole vault here at this stadium, the youngest being a ninth standard student from Trichy.
A letter was already submitted a year-and-a-half back to the SDAT asking to repair the mattress but the request has fallen to deaf years. Even the SDAT Coaches themselves asked for a replacement. But the management is yet to act. The ex-Chief Minister, J Jayalalitha had released a lot of funds for sports so we know that lack of funds is not the excuse here.
A close source added further, “We buy our own poles for the pole vault training and each cost around Rs 70,000. There is a spare mattress, which is again not IAAF approved but in a better state than the present one, and two poles which are kept in storage by SDAT, but we don’t have access to it. All these years we have been pooling money and repairing the mattress ourselves. The authorities have refused to contribute even a meagre amount of Rs 1,200 to 2,000 towards buying paste to fix it.” A couple of pole vaulters have already sprained and injured themselves during the practice. A serious injury would mean an end to their sporting career, he said.
Another athlete said, “We are easily blamed when we don’t win medals but no one sees the kind of situation we train in. We are not paid to train. We come to train out of our own passion. The gold medal is our reward. With a little betterment in facilities and equipment, we can do wonders.”
Questioning about other grievances, there was a request for one changing room to be allotted for the athletes training there as most are students or working and a decent facility would help them to change and proceed with their day’s work directly from the stadium. Even the toilets are locked and the unlocked ones are without latches. A person needs to guard outside while the other is using it.
An email from Sports Possible’s end to the Principal Secretary SDAT, Mr Ashok Dongre asking about an explanation for the above, resulted in no reply. We hope this article helps bring to light the situation of the stadium and the grievances of the athletes and urges the SDAT to do the needful at the earliest. The Stadium Officers need to be aware of the damages and repairs the required in the stadium by doing regular inspections and not depend on the athletes or coaches to always bring it to their attention.