Six months after the curtains came down on the Commonwealth Games, various sporting infrastructures of the Sports Authority of India were thrown open for the Capital’s youth. Under its utilisation plan, the then Sports Minister Ajay Maken launched the “Come and Play” scheme which attracted 924 applications on the first day. The objective of the scheme was simple: target the 8-17 years age group, ensure access to SAI’s facilities, impart coaching primarily to beginners and facilitate optimum use of the infrastructure available.
Of the 924 applications, 425 were received at Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, 231 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, 150 at Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerji Swimming Pool Complex, 106 at the Indira Gandhi Stadium and the remaining at Dr. Karni Singh Shooting Range. At the Indira Gandhi Stadium, the scheme covered the indoor stadium (gymnastics, table tennis and badminton), the K. D. Jadhav Wrestling Stadium (boxing, judo, wrestling and basketball) and the Cycling Velodrome. In the first year, enrolments steadily increased to settle at 17,032 in March 2012.
A year later, the numbers have increased on paper but the sparse attendance in various stadiums was primarily due to the ongoing exams for school students. But 10-year-old Jujhar Singh, who still has a few years till exam stress, was seen chasing the ball after his coach Kushdeep’s admonishing words ‘Stay at home if you don’t want to run!’
“I enrolled only a month ago,” said Jujhar, who is following into his father’s footsteps, the national player Gurinder Pal Singh. “I enjoy playing hockey and I am also the captain of the school team,” said this student of Guru Harkrishan Public School. The Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium where Jujhar trains is proof of one of the objectives of the scheme – optimum utilisation of the available infrastructure. “There was a time when we had 300 boys on the cricket ground at the same time and due to the grace of the almighty no one got hurt,” laughed a staffer at the stadium.
Such schemes encouraging “mass participation” hamper the growth of talented players, felt cricketer Naveen Asrani, who used to train at the Indira Gandhi Stadium before it was converted for the Games. “Since anyone can come and play, many of the kids are just here to have fun. This not only affects the quality of coaching but it also means their studies get disrupted,” he said. “Cricket is not a short game but with so many students it’s hard to train a batch beyond an hour and a half.”
Elsewhere at the JLN Stadium, coaches said that the facilities are used by some sprinters only to pass the fitness exams for Police recruitment. The scheme has in the past also faced a shortage of coaches and to solve the problem the Ministry had decided to engage those pursuing degrees from the National Institute of Sports, Patiala.
Away from the SAI’s facilities are 14 sports complexes run by the Delhi Development Authority: five in the South Zone, three each in the West Zone, North Zone and East Zone. This does not include the CWG Village Sports Complex that was opened to the public as recently as March 1. “The DDA has both an ‘athletics promotion scheme’ and a ‘football promotion scheme’ that targets all school going boys and girls,” said a senior advisor to the DDA.
Former athlete Rupinder Singh who trains athletes at the Thyagraj Stadium said the government should focus on imparting basic sports education in schools along with knowledge about nutrition and haemoglobin levels. “Children are giving their 100 per cent but the system in place is only getting more complicated as time goes by.”