There are miles to go and promises to keep

City Bureau

Shrinking playgrounds, neglected facilities and bias for academics pose hurdles to young sports enthusiasts

CHENNAI: When Sharukh Khan-starrer ‘Chak de India’ hit theatres in August, the Tamil Nadu Women’s Hockey Association received calls from several children who expressed interest in the game.

After a couple of months, the excitement seemed to have waned. “It all depends on how much support schools or parents can give and on where the child lives,” said secretary of Tamil Nadu Women’s Hockey Association M. Renuka Lakshmi. “A child who lives, for instance, in Ambattur may not be able to come to the stadium in Egmore for regular practice.”

Making a strong case for more facilities for sports, Ms. Lakshmi said that children and youth of today need plenty of backing if they want to make it big. “Sport gives character, the ability to accept defeat and try again, to challenge the world,” she said.

Her words ring true in the case of children in Kalyanapuram slum in Vyasarpadi. The Chennai Corporation school ground in their locality is their favourite haunt, where they play football every day. N. Umapathy, one of their football coaches, said, “It keeps them busy and happy. They don’t get into abusive habits like smoking.”

However, the playground is likely to become smaller, as some new classrooms have been planned. “New classrooms should certainly be built but not on playground space. There is an old, run-down building that can be pulled down and rebuilt,” said Mr. Umapathy.

Shrinking playgrounds and poor upkeep of existing facilities add to the hurdles before young sports enthusiasts. Many city schools do not have grounds, specialist coaches or equipment. Some private institutions offer facilities for tennis, badminton and cricket, but restrict use to members only.

A. Mahendran, a former volleyball professional, was critical about the sports policy followed by the Central and State Governments. Mr. Mahendran pointed out that the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports allotted huge funds for various projects but basic infrastructure to attract young talent was lacking.

The Nehru Park Sports Complex under the charge of the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT) is a very popular facility but in need of maintenance. SDAT Member-Secretary Atulya Misra said that the basketball and tennis courts would be redone soon. The SDAT also has several plans for the future. A call centre to give information on sports facilities, fees and availability is to be set up soon.

“We have started a tennis academy to coach children from Corporation schools. We will also hold district marathons that will culminate in the Chennai marathon next year,” Mr. Misra said.

Suburban pitch

Young people in Chennai are better off when it comes to sports facilities than those in the suburbs. Existing open spaces are being eaten away by commercial or residential complexes.

Sports enthusiasts in the southern suburb of Tambaram said the only good playground in Tambaram was situated in the railway staff quarters complex. Footballers said they could practise on grounds owned by private colleges and educational institutions but the charges were high.

Kancheepuram District Football Association president D. S. Sivasami said that letters had been sent to the Minister of State for Railways R. Velu requesting improvement of the railway staff quarters ground.

“Even a small city such as Imphal in Manipur has six football grounds. A stadium with infrastructure for training is a dream for young footballers here,” Mr. Sivasami said.

Private enterprise

Private coaching academies have made a mark in some of the suburbs. D.S.K Reddy has been running the Reddy’s Cricket Academy for eight years now. He started coaching children on the playground of a private school in Selaiyur. The academy recently shifted to a five-acre site, taken on lease, where he has developed infrastructure at the cost of Rs. 6 lakh to groom young players. He charges about Rs. 400 per month and has trained cricketers for competitions in the Kancheepuram district under-13, under-15 and under-17 categories.

As spaces for football and hockey shrink, sports such as roller-skating are gaining popularity. District-level meets for roller-skating encourage the children, says Raghunandhan, a sports enthusiast from East Tambaram. Parents also seem happy to encourage their children to skate. M.A.V. Swimming Pool in Sembakkam offers a skating rink.

Corporate sponsorship for matches and tournaments would be a great help, said coaches from sports associations. They said that support was available for games such as cricket but if private firms come forward to sponsor just one or two matches of other sports, a lot of young people would benefit.

(With inputs from Kannal Achuthan, T. Madhavan and R. Srikanth)

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