These are the days of IPL-style leagues, glamour and big money. But athletics seems to have lost the big race in the country, says M.D. Valsamma.

“Every sport is trying to evolve, to make itself attractive but athletics still looks like an amateur sport,” said the former Asian Games champion. “We now have the IPL-style activity in other sports, athletics also needs to think of such things, to attract young girls, youngsters.”

It doesn’t take you very long to see why athletics still appears an amateur sport.

“If you look at the colleges, a good many of them still look like what they were more than 30 years ago”, said Valsamma, a former Asian 400m hurdles record holder and the 1982 Asian Games champion in the event.  

“We were the first batch of athletes (and this included P.T. Usha and Mercy Kuttan) at the Mercy College in Palakkad. They still have a sports hostel but now, I don’t think they have a good bunch of girls like what they used to have earlier.

“You need good coaches and good training facilities. We may have improved in our scientific training but the infrastructure and the ground almost haven’t changed in those 30 years. So, you can’t go forward with these things.”

For athletics, it’s a race against time.

“We should develop everything at a very fast pace or we will be left 50 years behind other leading countries”, said Valsamma, now a Senior Commercial Manager (Railway Claims Tribunal) in Kochi.

She said the focus now is only on leading athletes. “That should change, we should have a second string, a third one and a fourth to follow…and it should be a continuous chain. Otherwise, there will be a big vacuum.”

Valsamma, who quit competitive athletics more than 25 years ago at the age of 26, made her debut as a coach a few months ago at a summer camp here.

The good news is, there are many athletes who are now thinking of a coaching career after quitting the sport.

Discus thrower Krishna Poonia, the country’s first Commonwealth Games champion in the women’s section, plans to take up coaching soon after hanging up her boots after the 2016 Rio Olympics.

“We are trying to start a sports academy exclusively for girls in Jaipur, we have tall girls in Rajasthan”, said Virender Poonia, Krishna’s husband and coach. “The Rajasthan CM has forwarded my proposal to the Jaipur Development Authority and if we get the land, we will start the academy next year itself.”

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