The Athletics Federation of India (AFI) has big plans for the future including a zero-tolerance policy against doping and age-fraud.

Outlining the current and future priorities of the federation, the newly-elected AFI secretary, C.K. Valson, who was in the city on a short visit on Thursday, told The Hindu that the focus would be on developing the sport in a substantial manner at the grassroots level.

“It is certainly understood that there is no use looking beyond our shoulder into the past and we can get ahead only with an eye on the future. We are currently working on that direction and though a concrete plan has not been put in place as yet, I can very well tell you that we intend to work with the States so as to identify talent and monitor their training process quite closely and in a regular manner.”

Mr. Valson said that a series of meetings have been planned in the coming weeks and a detailed project report would be ready for submission to the Union Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs before May 10. “But what we are currently discussing is to have selection trials across the country for juniors (from the under-14 age-category and upwards) and have regular short-duration camps at the zonal level. We certainly would not like to disturb the academic studies of the young athletes and therefore would like them to train continuously under the supervision of qualified coaches on a regular basis.”

Immediate need

There was the immediate need to develop coaches with IAAF licenses all across the country for the junior programme to succeed. In the long run, the AFI would like to have at least 500 coaches with licenses at different levels within the next few years.

“There is also the idea to promote the IAAF Kids Athletics Programme in a big way and for this we indeed do need the services of a large number of coaches. We want young kids to take up athletics at a young age but at the same time would not like them to be overloaded. With this in mind, we would be also soon launching the Coaches Licensing and Education Programme all over the country shortly with each State Association being asked to take up this project quite seriously.”

The AFI would be pursuing a zero-tolerance policy against both doping and age-fraud. “Both are grave menaces for the development of the sport in the country. As it is quite difficult to tackle the menace of age-fraud, we have already decided to get all the details of each and every participant of the next National junior meet including their date of birth and thumb impressions and provide each one of them with a bar-coded identity card. A serious athlete enters our competition stream at the age of 14 and once we have the details of the athlete in our system, there can be no manipulation thereafter.”

Conceding the fact that the positive results returned by a host of athletes recently have dented the image of the sport in the country, Mr. Valson said the AFI would continue with its efforts to educate the athletes through regular programmes.

“We are also planning to work with NADA closely so as to ensure that regular tests are conducted in all major meets, both at the State and National level, from the coming season. This I hope would prove to be a deterrent to the athletes to indulge themselves in such foul practices.”

Mr. Valson said that he expected a few more athletes to make the grade for the London Olympics. “Already ten of our athletes have made the cut and by the time the qualification process ends, I am sure that a few more would get into the London-bound team. I am hopeful that high-hurdler Sidhanth Thingalaya and intermediate hurdler Joseph G. Abraham stands a good chance to qualify, given their current form. However, we have to be realistic about our chances in London. The key factor is to look ahead and work tirelessly for possible gains in the future,” he added.

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