After the 1995 SAF Games, the Asian Athletics Championship could have become the next mega sports event in the city. The Chief Minister herself had taken the initiative to have the Championship conducted here when it became known that India had been allotted the event after a 23-year gap.
New Delhi had hosted the event in 1989.
As it had happened, she had to cancel the event for issues that were larger than sport. But purely from a sporting angle this was an event that would have brought in some of Asia’s and the world’s best athletes.
With the World championship slated for August in Moscow, the Asian Championship was to be the last testing ground for Asia’s best and that alone was a guarantee for a top-draw show in Chennai.
An event of this nature needed Government support in a big way, and so it was. The State government had initially drawn an over Rs.45 crore budget that included getting the Nehru stadium ready. The budget was later enhanced to over Rs.70 crore for a total revamp that touched on everything from the turf and the floodlights to every chair in the galleries, not to forget the freshly planned new track and athletes’ warm-up areas — indoor and outdoor.
“Contracts for the whole project had already been given out and much of the work had long begun,” said C.K. Valsan, the Secretary of the Athletics Federation of India and key convenor of the whole show. “We have also just completed a presentation of the various facilities including hotels and other arrangements to the Asian delegates.”
Mr. Valsan said it was tough now to change the venue. “I had informed Mr. Adille Sumariwalla, the AFI President, and his view too was that shifting the venue to any other part of the country may be difficult. If there is some chance then only Pune and Delhi can be considered alternate cities,” he said.
Then again, the AFI Secretary said, shifting would mean looking for fresh sponsors, even though media reports indicated that the Central Government would provide all support.
As things stand, shortage of time is the biggest hurdle because the third leg of the Asia Grand prix meet, in May, and the national inter-state meet, in June, had been planned as a run up to the Asian championship. What will happen to them is to be seen. With AFI awaiting word from the Government, the Asian Athletics Association (AAA), headquartered in Singapore, is not ready to speculate. “AAA’s statement will come only when we officially inform the Asian body of the State Government’s decision,” said Mr. Valsan.
This is the second occasion that the Championship has faced this situation. In 2007 Lebanon could not conduct the championship in the face of sudden war conditions and the meet was shifted to Amaan in Jordan.