He has a personal best of 2.12m but Tamil Nadu high jumper S. Silvester could not even touch 2m in the South Zone junior athletics championship on Monday. There was none to push him.
With just two competitors — M. Vimal Kumar, also from Tamil Nadu, being the other jumper — the junior boys’ final turned out to be a big letdown on a hot morning at the Maharaja’s Stadium.
And this is a zone which has some of the country’s most promising high jumpers, including under-18 national record-holder S. Harshith of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu’s senior stars Benedict Starli, Nikhil Chittarasu and Kerala’s inter-State National champion Jithin Thomas.
Unfortunately, despite winning the event, Silvester and Vimal will not be presented medals in the under-20 boys’ high jump. The event will just be considered as a trial for the inter-zone National meet.
“That’s because we need to have at least three athletes — all from different States — for it to count as an official event,” said M. Velayudhan Kutty, Secretary of the Kerala State Athletics Association, the championship host.
Meanwhile, Kerala’s young star Jessy Joseph won the under-18 girls’ 800m with a dominant run.
But with none to challenge her, Jessy, from P.T. Usha’s School of Athletics, was not anywhere near the pace she had planned to run. There were just three girls in her final.
And the junior girls’ long jump became a trial after just three girls, including two from Tamil Nadu, turned up.
“It’s a big shame to see just two or three athletes in many events,” said Olympian Mercy Kutan, the first Indian woman to cross 6m in the long jump.
“But the fact is, though a lot of money is being pumped into sport by the Government and big companies at the top level to send our athletes to foreign countries for training and exposure, little is being done at the grassroots level,” said the former Asian star.
“Where will we get athletes for the Olympics if we do not nurture young talent, if we do not provide funding for the grassroots level?” she asked.
Mercy, who runs the Mercy Kuttan Athletics Academy, has a good reason to be sad and disappointed.
A few days ago, she was shocked to hear Kerala Sports Minister K.B. Ganesh Kumar say that the State Government would not provide any funding for private academies. Her academy had benefitted from Government grants the last two years.
K. Ranga Rao, the Vice-President of the Athletics Federation of India, also spoke in a similar tone.
“The Sports Minister, Ajay Maken, talks about spending something like Rs. 400 crore and starting world-class sports institutes and other big schemes, but that is only at the advanced level… where are the athletes for you,” said Ranga Rao, who is also the Secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Athletics Association.
“What funds are you spending for activity throughout the country at the grassroots level… there is nothing. So you see why this is happening.
“You don’t have proper coaches, you don’t have proper facilities, you don’t have proper playfields throughout the country.
No follow up
“What is the use of spending huge amounts when we don’t have proper follow-up at the grassroots level.
“We always compare ourselves with other countries but we don’t see how much countries like China spend on sport, how they organise things and how they develop sport in various stages.”