Finally, National Games set to take off but starpower missing

Finally, National Games set to take off but starpower missing

Finally, National Games set to take off but starpower missing

Multiple delays, continued teething troubles and the absence of big stars has robbed it of significant sheen but the 35th National Games would nonetheless be a huge platform for new talent to make a mark when the extravaganza rolls out here, from tomorrow.

The infrastructure for the showpiece event, to be held across seven districts of the state, took such an eternity to come up that the Games are now being held a good three years later than originally planned.

Even a day before the action starts, the murmurs of not being "prepared enough" were occasionally heard from harried officials, who are still giving finishing touches to the arrangements. And the organisers would desperately hope to keep the proceedings at least close to smooth.

"We are experts at pulling things off at the last minute but we should get better than that. It is high time, isn't it," an official said lamenting the oft-repeated story of Indian sports.

The iconic Sachin Tendulkar being the Games Goodwill ambassador has added a fair bit of glamour to the event but the irony of it all can hardly be missed given that a superstar from a non-Olympic sport had to be roped in to prop up a showpiece of Olympic sports.

And more so after the small bunch of big Olympic stars in the country, who would have added sheen and value to the competition, decided to give it a miss. Shuttle queen Saina Nehwal couldn't make it due to other commitments, boxing's pin-up boy Vijender Singh is nursing a nose injury and top wrestlers Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt have also pulled out among the big names.

The shooting range, however, will have its fair share of celebrated names with Olympic medallists Gagan Narang and Vijay Kumar set to represent Andhra Pradesh and Services Sports Control Board respectively.

The archery arena, set up in Kochi, will also be quite star-studded with the Asian Games individual silver-medallist and team gold-medallist compound archer Abhishek Verma in fray for Delhi.

But the boxing arena, which under ideal circumstances would have been a crowd-puller, is expected to be quite dull after most of the established pugilists decided to skip the event owing to the tug of war between the Indian Olympic Association and Boxing India.

With the IOA refusing to grant recognition to BI, the well-known among the men and women who were supposed to take guard, decided to play safe and stay out of the competition to be held in Thrissur.

"Nobody wants to get involved in politics. So it's better to stay out than get in and become a pawn," said one boxer when contacted.

Another challenge for the organisers would be to keep a check on the doping menace. Since a medal at the National Games guarantees good prize money from states and even job security, athletes would be tempted to look for shortcuts but Games organisers would try to keep a tab by implementing the World Anti-Doping Agency code.

The sports which will face the most amount of scrutiny include weightlifting, athletics and swimming.

Statistically speaking, Aquatics, comprising swimming, diving and water polo, will offer the maximum number of medals -- a total of 150 (50 each of Gold, Silver and Bronze). In fact, the total number of medals that to be handed out at Pirappancode, will be 276 owing to the multiple medals that will be handed out for relay teams.

Athletics (192), Canoeing and Kayaking (252) and Shooting (228) will be among other sports offering a bagful of medals and the promise of a good job and cash incentives for the athletes taking part in the spectacle.

The overall medal count is, however, less than the previous edition, which was held in Ranchi in 2011. The total medals on offer in this edition are 1369 as against 1479 in the past edition.
Equestrian, Sepak Takraw and Karate have been excluded this time, replaced by Beach Volleyball, Beach Handball and Yachting.

The Games will kick off with an opening ceremony tomorrow with Union Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu being a rather unusual choice of a chief guest in a sporting event.

Also expected to be there are Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, Tendulkar, who has done his bit to promote the Games by lending his presence to build-up events, and legends such as P T Usha among others.

The opening ceremony will feature over 5000 artists and the Games flame will be lit jointly by Usha and Anju Bobby George after being received from Tendulkar at the Greenfield stadium.

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