No ground for sporting glory

No ground for sporting glory

India’s grand Rio Olympic ambitions could fetch nothing beyond Sindhu’s silver and Sakshi’s bronze. Like most Indians, as Bengalureans wondered what went wrong, the reasons lay there tellingly across the City: Playgrounds, encroached and in deep decay; layouts without an inch of sporting space; hyper-expensive clubs and an urban planning system, clueless and apathetic.

Indeed, a cosmetic course correction could be seen in pockets. But beyond those grounds in the heart of the City,  dedicated, affordable and well-equipped sports facilities remain a pipedream for lakhs of children. Realty projects have invaded every nook and corner, making a mockery of planned development.

Civic amenity sites, earmarked for playgrounds and other allied facilities, are wantonly encroached. Land sharks, in collusion with politicians, BDA and BBMP insiders have perfected the art of fabricating documents to claim ownership of these sites. Their designs clearly go beyond lakes and drains.

Former national Heptathlon champion, Reeth Abraham draws attention to the pathetic state of sports infrastructure, both in the neighborhoods and those run by sports bodies. If BBMP grounds do not have the capacity to build a sporting culture, established venues such as the Kanteerava stadium are in dire need of an upgrade.

Sports, last priority
“Sports is the last priority here,” Abraham notes with immense regret. “It (government) keeps giving permission to schools on 30X40 sq ft or 60X40 sq ft sites with no scope for a playground at all. A ground should be the basic infrastructure, without which sports activities become zero,” she explains.

To build a strong foundation, sports have to be made a compulsory subject in schools, reasons the acclaimed athlete. “Grade every child in sports, build the infrastructure required in all schools by partnering with corporate,” suggests Abraham.

But in a system where open spaces are thrown wide open to the games played by land sharks, this is a tough task. “Earlier, the planned layouts had some place set aside for playgrounds. But today, many private layouts on the city’s outskirts have no such facility,” laments former Basketball captain Rajan.

Yet, Rajan is optimistic. He feels the playgrounds in government schools and colleges, though ill-maintained, could be upgraded through private partnerships. “After school hours, these could be made available to the general public. Today, land is scarce and this option can work well,” he feels.

However, football, dubbed the “poor man’s game,” does not require fancy infrastructure. As former Indian goalkeeper, Balaji Narasimhan explains, all it needs is a level ground big enough to accommodate seven-a-side or even five-a-side teams.

Skills nurtured no more
Bengaluru was once known for its football greats who rose from the grassroots and often made it to famed clubs and even the national team. “Before, it used to be about skills nurtured through playing in makeshift grounds in neighbourhoods and slums,” Narasimhan recalls.

These grounds too have disappeared thanks to over-crowding in slums and take-over by realty players. Narasimhan seeks a revival of this once cherished football culture. But it can happen only if camps and trials are conducted in poor neighborhoods.

Skilled slum children do queue up to enter the academies, even if they are unaffordable. “But they lack confidence and don’t get selected in trials. Their torn shoes cannot compete with the Nike’s. This culture should change, for the best of our footballers and academy founders had humble origins.”  If BDA and other planning authorities had stuck to the rules, Bengaluru could have had a well structured network of sporting arenas. But as Reeth Abraham reiterates, “even a small club house with a swimming pool and a few badminton and tennis courts is not happening.”

Funding apathy
The only priority for everyone, she says, “is to build houses and sell them and make money. Sports facilities are the last thing they have in mind.” BBMP, in its budget this year, did make a token mention of the need to encourage sports. The proposal was to promote “rural sports” by developing the Palike’s vacant lands as playgrounds.

The objective was clear: To give BBMP school and college students training and encouragement. But the money earmarked for this grand plan was a paltry Rs 2 crore.
This token allocation is proof enough of a blatant apathy to sports. A sense of urgency to create a robust grassroot-level community of well-trained youngsters ready to get to the next level is clearly missing. If Rio was a disaster, Tokyo 2020 offers no hope!

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