An uneasy disquiet pervades the Kerala athletics scene for a second time in as many months, what with the less than impressive performance of the four major universities from the State at the all-India inter-university athletics meet, which concluded in Mangalore on Wednesday, leaving a lot of problems to ponder.

Perhaps it was for the first time in many years that the universities from the State have failed to emerge on top of the final medal tally, even though Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam did finish second overall behind Punjabi University, Patiala.

Calicut University, the reigning champion, was a poor fourth this time around though it did find some consolation by annexing the women's team title. Kerala University finished sixth in the final count while Kannur University could only manage a distant 11th position.

Far cry

Indeed, a far cry from the days that these universities from the State used to dominate the events and sweep all the titles at stake. Coming as it is barely two months after Kerala lost hold of the overall title at the junior National athletics meet in Ranchi for the first time since 1998, the failure of the athletes at the university level to come up with good performances has only made the fans of the sport despondent.

However, observers, who have keenly followed the success story of Kerala athletics over the last three decades or more, sounded unanimous in their opinion that the disaster was waiting to happen for sometime now, pointing out the general decay that has set in the Sports Hostels system, run by the Kerala State Sports Council, over the years and the absolute failure of the coaches in the State in adopting modern training methods.

Indeed, there are several others including the former International Bobby Aloysius, who have criticised the poor condition of the clay track in which the inter-university meet was held and stating that the setback suffered by the universities from the State should be only seen as a temporary phenomenon. “Of course, there is the need for some course correction in the training methods now prevailing in the State and in making available the best of facilities to the athletes in the Sports Hostels. But I feel that there is no dearth of talent in Kerala. In fact, we have some of the best athletes when compared to the rest of the country. The main thing is that we should concentrate now to draw up an overall plan and work towards achieving its objectives,” she said.

Poor track conditions

The Secretary of the Kerala State Athletics Association (KSAA), M. Velayudhan Kutty, too felt that the poor track conditions had a major say in the final outcome, citing the withdrawal of sprinter Sujith Kuttan and triple jumper P.S. Neethu Mathew due to last minute injuries. “Yet, there is no mistaking the fact that it is high time that we took a look inward. And with this in mind, we have already initiated the planning of a two-day workshop to analyse our results through the last 10 years at various levels — senior, junior, university and school. This will be held soon after the next month's National school athletics meet in Ludhiana. Besides, the KSAA is also in the process of arranging a coaches' licence programme in association with the Athletics Federation of India. We indeed have to take a close look at several factors and arrest the declining standard of Kerala athletics.”

Simultaneously, there are indications of the Kerala State Sports working out a complete revamp of the working of its Sports Hostels in tune with the recommendations made by both the Kerala State Sports Commission in 2009 and the Working Group on Sports, constituted by the State Planning Board, more recently.

Truly, all are worried about the sudden downfall in the standard of Kerala athletics and are in the search of corrective measures. But then, it cannot be overlooked that 2011 has been an eminently a poor year for the sport in the State and that it cannot rest on its past glory any longer.