Date: 13th February 2011
Place: Kinalur, about 30kms from Kozhikode
Setting: P T Usha’s training academy for young athletes
The chief guest, the then Union Minster of Sports, Shri Ajay Maken, arrived at the venue to flag off the work for the construction of an international standard synthetic track-and-field arena. Having sanctioned the paperwork and allocated the requisite funds (approximately Rs 5 crore) for the project, it was indeed seen as an encouraging sign that the Central Minister himself flew down to oversee the beginning of new hope.
This was the culmination of P.T. Usha’s, popularly known as Payyoli Express, nine-year-long dream. She desired to provide a platform to train young athletic talents from all over the country, drawing from her own immeasurable experience at the highest levels of the sport. For this, she needed the appropriate infrastructure.
But as governments come and go in India, sports infrastructure development languishes in the remote backwaters of a third world country. But India’s promising performance in the last few Olympics has made the babus sit up and take stock. Hence, the green-lighting of the project.
Little did she know, how many aeons would come to pass, till the finished track sees the light of day.
Date: 15th June 2017 – A good 6 years down the line
Place and Setting: Same as above
The Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is supposed to inaugurate the project via video-conference, in presence of the Central Minister for Sports, Shri Vijay Goel and the State Minister for Sports AC Moideen. Our Honourable Sports Minister is the very same who sent a wonderfully inept team of medical officials to the Rio Olympics last year and gained quite some notoriety by whisking away athletes to click selfies, right after their events, rather than letting them catch their breath.
Coming back to the present, the announcement of the above event, elicited the following response from ex-Minister Ajay Maken:
As the political tug-of-war ensues over, where credit is due, the timeline of the entire operation begets a different question entirely. As put forward very succinctly by K.P. Mohan, one of the well-respected journalists in India:
Instead of focusing on who is flagging the opening of the track, the question should be turned around to why it took a cumulative 15 years from the conception to the delivery of this project – even as it came at the express request of one of the most decorated athletes in the country for her own academy.
In a similar context, let us review the case of another Indian sporting legend who dedicated his retirement funds and time, not to rest on his laurels, but to further the sporting culture back home.
We are talking about Dronacharya Awardee Pullela Gopichand. After retiring from the sport, he founded the Gopichand Badminton Academy near Hyderabad in 2008.
His academy has produced gems like Saina Nehwal, P.V. Sindhu, P. Kashyap, Srikanth Kidambi and many more. But the story behind the foundation of the Academy is little known.
After retiring in 2003 at a relatively young age of 27 years, Gopichand had set his mind to bring world-class infrastructure to India to hone the next generation of budding talents. With the 5 acres of land awarded to him by the Andhra Pradesh government, he decided to bring his dream to fruition. Even with a seed money of almost $1.25 million from Mr Nimmagadda Prasad, a distant relative and billionaire entrepreneur, his project fell short of its financial aspirations. It was then that he proceeded to repeatedly mortgage his ancestral home to fund the rest of the project.
Fast forward a few years – the Government sends the Indian National Badminton Team to train at the Gopichand Academy in the preparation of the Commonwealth Games, eventually elevating him to the post of the National Coach.
If the story of Pullela Gopichand counts as a success, then it is a sad state of affairs for the sports environment in India. For those like PT Usha, who are not so lucky or are unable to risk losing everything to build an Academy, it is the end of a dream – not only for them but for thousands of aspiring talents lurking in various corners of the country. These youngsters need a stage in their home country and a helping hand to showcase their talents on the world stage.
The only thing more disappointing than the fact that government officials from opposing parties quarrel over taking credit, like a pair of hungry lionesses fighting over decaying carcasses, is that they don’t realise that it is not the credit that they are clawing over, but discredit.
The discredit that it took 15 years to sanction and build the most basic sporting infrastructure in a country that hopes to challenge for a seat among the superpowers in the coming years.