Will importing talent work?

THE MOVE to bring in athletes from other States to represent Andhra Pradesh at the Hyderabad National Games has given rise to a considerable amount of debate over the issue. With the aim of increasing the medals tally at the forthcoming National Games, the AP Amateur Athletic Association has decided to ask top athletes from other States to represent Andhra Pradesh with the permission of their respective States and the AAFI.

If they win medals they will be eligible for the handsome amounts being offered by AP for medal winners. This has attracted several of the country's best athletes and some have already represented AP in the Federation Cup championship at Chennai. No doubt it has also paid off since AP finished third in the overall rankings. What was very encouraging was that AP's own P. Shankar created a new meet record in the 400 metre hurdles by clocking his best ever time of 51.68 seconds. A product of SAI Sports Training Centre in Secunderabad this lad has made rapid strides in his sport.

But the idea of "importing'' athletes is not an entirely new one. Even at the international level there have been occasions when sportspersons have been induced to represent one country or another by offering them various types of incentives. In the field of athletics itself, one may recall that the promising South African athlete Zola Budd who notched up a string of impressive records with a short span of time was roped in by Great Britain. Her rivalry with Mary Decker of USA, their collision in the middle of the 3000-metre race in the Los Angeles Olympics and the subsequent failure of both Budd and Decker to gain any medal is one of the well-known incidents of international athletics.

But in the case of AP one must consider the various implications of such a move. The main argument against such a step is that it will discourage local talent from fighting hard and improving their own performances and enjoy the honour of representing the State.

A former AP athlete feels that this is not the right way to gain medals. If AP wants to increase its medal haul then it should develop its own standards to the required level and see that its own athletes bring in the medals. If athletes from other States represent AP and win medals, then in the long run it will not help AP to raise its own standard. On the contrary it may have the opposite effect, he feels.

But there are also those who feel that far from being discouraged, the AP State athletes will try harder to fight for a place in the State squad and thereby the standard will be raised. Also there is one opinion, which says that even by being alongside the country's top athletes, watching them in practice and by being in close contact with them daily, the AP athletes will learn a lot.

However, there is yet another aspect to be considered. If AP begins this trend and if it catches on, what will stop other States from doing the same thing? What will happen if other States start poaching on AP's badminton players, volleyball players and boxers who are AP's best hope for medals?

As it is the State's strength is depleted considerably due to the promising sportspersons finding employment outside the State and leaving AP for greener pastures elsewhere. These are aspects that the authorities concerned must think about carefully before embarking upon the scheme and implementing the idea in toto. No doubt the move may enable sportspersons to make some well-deserved money from their sport but it may also lead to financial problems for the State bodies if they try to outdo each other in offering monetary incentives to the top sportspersons of the country in order to persuade them into representing States other than their own.

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