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A leg up for athletics

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GETTING SET The Bangalore Sports Club athletics coach with the trainee boys and girls photo: Murali Kumar K.
GETTING SET The Bangalore Sports Club athletics coach with the trainee boys and girls photo: Murali Kumar K.

Now in its tenth year, the Bangalore Sports Club wants to restore Karnataka's glory in the athletics arena

Athletics is surely losing credence all over the country, and Karnataka, which once boasted of a plethora of stars at the national and international levels, is not a cradle of athletes anymore. Which is where the Bangalore Sports Club (BSC) steps in. The organisation has dedicated itself to arresting this fall in standards and promoting the sport. BSC, now a decade old, has in its folds a number of high-profile members including both corporate heads and international sportspersons with star value such as financial wizard Mohandas Pai of Infosys, Olympian athlete Ashwini Nachappa, former India women's cricket captain Pramila Bhat and this year's Dhyan Chand awardee Uday Prabhu, to name a few. "Our first objective, of popularising athletics in rural Karnataka, has been achieved," says Abhay Jain, President of the Club, during the 7th edition of the KPMG-Cadet Bangalore City Inter School athletic championships. "But yes, the larger objective of producing world-class athletes is still unfulfilled. It seems a long way off," laments Jain. The reasons are plenty and often discussed. But a cure does not seem in the offing.

Lack of a method

"The lack of systematic approach is the main cause and with the nutritional aspect not paid attention to in the right way, there is a yawning gap to be bridged," feels Jain.Uday Prabhu, former international one-lapper, has been guiding the young hopefuls along with another international sportsperson, former 100m/200m National champion Anand Shetty. He is quick to point out that despite all difficulties, he doesn't think athletics is dying in the state. "There is a wealth of talent in the districts, especially Dakshina Kannada, which has long been the nursery for throwers and sprinters alike. With the talent being identified and developed it is just a matter of time before the lost glory is regained. About 10 years ago there was a slump in the talent base with more and more youngsters opting for lucrative sports, but the scene is slowly but definitely changing. In the last couple of years Karnataka has been winning about 16-18 medals at the junior South Zone championships, which goes to show that there is a revival of sorts," says Prabhu with great confidence. "It was only in 1997 that the idea of State-level meets was mooted. Till then it was just about encouraging the youth and bringing out an awareness towards track and field. Since 1998 the road races, the flag-bearer of the KPMG-BSC tie up has been a much sought after event and the popularity of the annual Inter School Championship can be gauged by the whopping number entries each year," says Prabhu. This time more than 5,000 athletes from nearly 180 schools participated in the three-day event, which saw some spectacular efforts from the likes of Nirupama Sunder Raj (girls under-14), R. Pooja (girls under-12), Hanan Basha and Rishad Talati (boys under-16). BSC, in its decade-long pursuit of excellence, has produced some inspiring performers. Clifford Joshua blazed the tracks at the National circuits but faded away from the scene with the same speed. Bindu Rani, Poonam Bojanna and Shilpa Sundar, along with Parmesh, have all donned the India colours, with Poonam presently in Colombo with the Indian team for the ongoing SAF Games. But none of them have managed to carve a niche for themselves at the global stage or be treated among icons in their own state. Prabhu points out that today there is adequate representation in the State meets from the districts of Gulbarga, Uttara Kannada and Bidar and Haveri, largely because of the annual divisional meets being conducted there by the BSC. "Belgaum division's seven districts (Dharwad, Gadag, Bagalkot, Bijapur, Haveri, North Kanara and Belgaum) and Gulbarga Divisions four districts (Raichur, Gulbarga, Koppal and Bidar) have had a fair share of medallists in the state junior and senior meets," Prabhu says.The likes of the strapping Hanan Pasha, the talented S.M. Roshan, the bubbly Sanjana Hariprasad, and S. Deepak among others are the future of BSC, Karnataka athletics with the potential now on view.Anand Shetty, a seven-time former national sprint champion who has been devoting most of his time to the BSC athletes after taking voluntary retirement from his job, is of the opinion that with all the publicity and infrastructure that is available for today's athletes, the performances should have been bigger. "There is no long term commitment. After getting into a job through athletics, the aspirants settle down to life and marriage and forget the fact that it was athletics that helped them achieve it," Shetty says.Babu Shetty, another former State athlete who has donned the role of a coach at the BSC, feels that there is immense potential in the districts, but due to a lack of hostel facilities there is no way these talents be brought to Bangalore. If some rooms or accommodation can be provided to these athletes, we at the BSC can provide top-class coaching besides education and food, to nurture these talents. Hostel facilities at concessional rates are mandatory to develop sportsmen/women from the districts," feels Babu, a former decathlete. BSC during its meets over the years has brought in some refreshing ideas to bolster the sport. For instance, the physical education teachers from 10 selected schools who have done exceptionally well are awarded cash incentives for their contribution, while three best schools are provided cash incentives to the tune of Rs 25,000, Rs 10,000 and Rs. 5,000 to upgrade their athletics infrastructure. AVINASH NAIR

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