SPORT

Usha's dream comes true

KOZHIKODE MAY 29. She stuttered. She paused. She struggled for words. But, then, she's not known for her speeches. She's known for her legendary feats on the track.

On a sweltering Wednesday afternoon, though, at the District Sports Council Stadium, Koyilandy, about 20 minutes' drive from her home at Payyoli, India's greatest sportswoman by a couple of long miles, P. T. Usha, had to speak. She was dedicating her dream, the Usha School of Athletics, to the country.

The school was inaugurated by the Union Sports Minister Uma Bharati at a function, attended among others by actor Sunil Dutt, athletes Suresh Babu and Rosa Kutty, Usha's famous coach O. M. Nambiar, FIDE vice president P. T. Ummer Koya, Evgeny Vladimirov, former coach of the World No. 1 chess player Garry Kasparov and currently in India on a coaching assignment, as the little town came alive.

Ms. Bharati, the fiery `sanyasin' of the BJP, announced that the Usha School of Athletics was the first of the series of training centres that the Central Government would jointly run in the private sector in every State. That was something of a surprise, and one is not sure whether Usha's school would be any better for it, given the track record of our `babu's and politicians in making a mess of everything they are involved with, sports included.

Ms. Bharati said that the Planning Commission had already allocated fund for such schools. ``Sports in the country needs to be privatised,'' she said. The minister, dressed in her trademark saffron, began what certainly was an entertaining speech somewhat in the Mark Antony fashion in Shakespeare's `Julius Caesar'. ``I've come to pay my tribute to P. T. Usha, not to open her school,'' she said. ``She doesn't know it, but Usha has been my heroine. I was thrilled when I met her for the first time in 1998 at Patiala when she welcomed with me a bouquet of flowers. Each time she won a medal I felt proud, as a woman and as an Indian.''

Ms. Bharati said if China could stage an Olympics there was no reason why India couldn't. ``We have conducted the Asian Games. And very nearly the Afro-Asian Games, which is a parallel of Olympics,'' she claimed. ``And we will be one of the top ten countries in world sport in ten years,'' she fantasised again.

Comparison with China is alright (it's our next-door neighbour after all), but since population is not the only criterion that determines the eligibility of a country to host Olympics, the minister might find it a bit difficult to turn her dream into a reality. Sunil Dutt, the Congress MP, in his speech said it was very necessary to have a dream. ``Since we don't know what is going to happen tomorrow, I assure my `chotti behen' Uma that when the Congress assumes power and if I am the Sports Minister, I will try my best to bring the Olympics to India. And I will then say that this was Uma's dream,'' said the fine actor, who was the first person to contribute financially to the Usha school, when he gave Usha Rs.50,000 as soon as he heard about the school, during a function in Mumbai.

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