The country’s dismal performance at all international athletics meets is cause for heartburn. Whenever our teams return there is the usual hand-wringing, heart burn and soul searching over why a country of over a billion people cannot do better.
Here’s one of the reasons why. Take the Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation’s non-profit Gun For Glory Shooting Academy, located at the Shiv Chhatrapati sports complex at Balewadi, a Pune suburb. Late last week, the academy witnessed a flurry of activity, set off by a letter from the state’s sports authorities issuing them an eviction notice.
The background is that the Foundation ran the academy under a memorandum of understanding signed with the state’s sports administration. The contract was for a year’s period, from April 2011 to 31 March 2012. This was not the only sport which was using the facilities, created by the state government for the promotion of sports: tennis, table tennis and badminton are the other sports.
As it began to taste success and shooting began to attract popular attention, the academy wanted a five-year extension, which the state government granted with the proviso that the rental would be hiked at the rate of 10% annually. That was in May last year but suddenly, on 31 January this year, it was issued an eviction notice.
Students from the academy have so far won 78 medals for the country, in individual and team events, including an Olympics bronze at the London Olympics last year, when Gagan Narang won it for the 10 metres men’s air rifle shooting. Narang is also the recipient of the Padma Shri.
Explaining the situation, Pawan Singh, assistant coach of the national shooting team and director of the academy, said, “When our lease expired in March 2012, we asked the state government to extend it for five years. We received a letter from the government of Maharashtra extending the lease with the proviso that rent would be increased every year, for five years, at the rate of 10%. We agreed but did not hear from the state government nor receive a new contract till this letter asking us to vacate the premises which was hand delivered at 8 pm on 31 January.”
When Narang returned to Pune after winning the bronze medal in his event at the London Olympics last year, the state’s top politicians were gung ho, promising the academy every benefit they could think of, including facilitating import of equipment. This is a crucial input for the functioning of the academy and its students’ performance. The central government’s sports authorities followed suit: promising equipment worth Rs.50 lakh. These promises have remained just that: promises.
Meanwhile, the sports complex is the venue of choice, with its extensive football and hockey grounds, for wedding celebrations of the rich, famous and politically connected. There was one such recent event where sportspersons in Pune were heard criticising the havoc wrought on the grounds.
Singh, director, Gun For Glory, added, “We have been paying the rent regularly and we had agreed to the proposed hike as well.”
The unstated question was, when the facilities built using the tax payer’s money are being put to their intended use, that is, sports training, and the academy is paying the government, why is the government then asking them to vacate?
As events turned out, the high visibility, through awards won by youngsters trained at these premises in the four sports, saved the day. The moment the Gun For Glory management swung into action, the state’s sports minister assured them of a new five year contract to run their respective training facilities.
But the question remains: why this knee jerk reaction? Of one set of officials shooting off eviction notices, another set smoothing over the situation with further promises (the new contracts are expected in a fortnight)?
The sad part is that this is not an isolated case or even a new phenomenon: it’s been going on for so long. Old timers in Pune recall the open ‘maidans’ where they let off steam, playing the games children play. These maidans have since become stadia, walled off and local children not allowed in and used for largely non-sports activities. While these open maidans may not have produced medal winning sportsmen and women, they allowed youngsters to learn to play the game: that open outdoors does more for a person’s all round growth than anything in a classroom or lecture hall.
Not for nothing is it recognised that a nation that gives due importance and attention to sports has better economic results: there are all kinds of linkages, to the general health of the economy, besides general health of individuals, that sports has, an open mind being its first most important contribution.