Kanteerava going off track

Once a nursery of many a sportsman, the stadium has now fallen into bad times. Increasing number of non-sporting events interrupts the training progra

Kanteerava going off track

Mention Sree Kanteerava Stadium and a glow of pride will radiate from the faces of yesteryear sports­persons. The same three words evoke concern in varying degrees in coaches and aspiring athletes of the day.

Once the spiritual home of Karnataka sport, the venue was a nursery of many a top talent. It was a stage too for some of the great athletes of the country to display their prowess. The epicentre of all sporting activities in the State, however, has fallen into bad times these days.

It is an age old maxim in sport that every second counts on a training field. For the young athletes of the State who wish to make those training times count, frustration is often the result these days.

Increasing number of non-sporting activities at the venue – including cultural programmes – interrupts the training programmes charted out by many coaches to hundreds of national and State-level athletes at the stadium. Add to that the lack of basic facilities, their woes are complete.

“The frequency of non-sporting activities has increased this year,” says senior coach V R Beedu, who has been training athletes here for the last 30 years. Beedu led a protest against the renting out of the stadium by the Department of Youth Services and Sports to non-sporting activities, as well as the poor state of amenities at the stadium last week.

He says lack of proper training facilities has hit the standard of sports in Karnataka.
“If we don’t protest now, we won’t be able to train at all at the venue. The standard of our athletes has dipped over the years - from champions in the Junior Nationals in 1991 to fourth in South Zone. Athletes need a peaceful environment for training. We have to preserve our training centre from extinction,” remarked the 65-year-old coach.

In February this year, rooms at the stadi­um were allotted for participants of a yoga competition, disturbing the athletes’ schedule. The authorities promised adequate measures for smooth conduct of training that time, but last month’s problems showed nothing has changed since then.

In November, a Diabetics Day programme and an in-house event of a corporate entity cut into the training schedules. In such a scenario, the athletes are forced to leave the main stadium and train at the 200-metre warm-up track outside which also hosts the archery competitors. “Many times, we move to the warm-up track. But, it’s always dangerous with archers training there,” Beedu says.

Lack of basic facilities, like proper toilets and gymnasium, adds to the athletes’ woes. A tour around the stadium gives a pathetic picture of stinking rest rooms with broken doors and damaged taps, while the gym presents a sorry state. Dumbbells and barbells rust in contrast to the picture one would expect at a top training centre. On the field, the protective net for hammer and discus throw too is in bad shape.

One of the musts for such a venue is proper changing rooms, but without doors and basic amenities it is a struggle for girls who come for training after school hours. The athletics fraternity is also worried about huge rental amount charged for hosting sports events, in marked contrast to the good old days.

Glorious past

First constructed in 1948, the stadium was completed in 1960 and in its glory days, hosted several national-level athletics’ meets apart from football tournaments that used to draw huge crowds in the 1960s and 70s. But its friendly face began to disappear when it was remodelled for the 1997 National Games and a synthetic track replaced the six-lane cinder track that had witnessed some top sporting feats. Olympian sprinter Kenneth Powell fondly remembers the part played by the training facilities here in moulding him into a top-class sprinter.

“I wasn’t a regular trainer at Kanteerava, because we had a one-lane track near my house. But, once in a while, I used to train there and on several occasions I was part of the national camps and other competitions. We never had any sort of interruption. You can see that in the results too,” says Powell, who competed in the 100M, 200M and 4x100M relay events of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo.

“To have a six-lane cinder track in those days was world class. We were blessed to have such a venue. I think Kanteerava played a major role in nurturing several athletes and help them become top perfor­mers,” says Powell, the winner of 200M at the 1966 Nationals held at the same venue.

Powell says watching the huge crowd itself was a motivation to perform. “During the 1962 Asian Games trials, there were around 10,000 spectators. In the 1966 Nationals, I won the 200M gold in front of a capacity crowd. That’s one of the best moments of my career.”

Footballing stars of yore too have fond memories of Kanteerava and the likes of Krishnaji Rao, who played in the 1966 Bangkok Asian Games, narrate those tales with passion. “Before the Bangalore Football Stadium was built, we used to play major matches in Kanteerava. So, many footballers have some good memories to savour about this venue,” says Krishnaji, a former Karnataka captain.

“In most matches, we had a capacity crowd cheering us. The pitch was one of the best in the country and I was just 19, when we (Mysore) won the Santosh Trophy in 1962,” he adds.

Sadly, those memories are fading away with the support system sorely lacking at the venue. Repeated pleas by coaches and athletes have gone unheard and even the silent protest last week had no impact on the officialdom.

“We never get a chance to meet the officials. Each time, after giving us an appointment, they postpone it giving some reason or the other, says Beedu.

The fall of a prime centre hurts every athlete who has brought honour to the State. Asian Games bronze medallist Pramila Aiyappa is no exception. The former heptathlete says a system needs to be put in place for the day-to-day running of the venue.

“Several professional athletes are training there and I request the authorities to put a system in place,” says Pramila, echoing the sentiments of many of her fellow competitors.
Unless the authorities introspect on what is going wrong and take corrective measures, we might well witness the fall of a premier sporting venue and training centre that was once the pride of Karnataka.

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