It isn’t insufficient infrastructure but, underutilised and poorly maintained infrastructure that is failing to produce champions from the state.
Sports have always been one of the top priorities in Tamil Nadu, and when Mariappan won the gold in the 2016 Paralympics, it was a moment of pride for the state. Tamil Nadu is home to some exceptional sports persons like Vishwanathan Anand, Ravichandran Ashwin, Dipika Pallikal, Narain Karthikeyan and Joshna Chinappa. The Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu, headed by Thiru K. Pandiarajan, the honourable Minister for School education, Archaeology, Youth Welfare and Sports Development Department, Government of Tamil Nadu is very ambitious and active in the promotion of sports in the state.
The state level games for the CM trophy were held in December- January 2016-17 with a budget of Rs.8.09 crores. 599 men and women winners of various sports in different categories were awarded prize money that totalled to about Rs.5.66crores. The scheme has been in place since 2013 and the winners get a prize money of Rs.1 lakh for first place, Rs.75,000 for the second place and Rs.50,000 for the third place. With the scholarship applications invited in august 2016, the state also awards scholarships to the national and international medalists. These schemes, coupled with the state of the art sports facilities help in the thriving of sports in the state.
The state has about 29 sports hostels, multi-purpose indoor stadia in five districts built at a cost of Rs1.5crore each and five modern-day stadia in the capital city, Chennai among the other small playgrounds and practice courts for various sports. Also, the Aquatic stadium in Velachery and the Nehru stadium were renovated recently to upgrade facilities and meet international standards. “The pool and the complex is now renovated to accommodate international games thereby meeting the purpose it was originally built for,” said a spokesperson from the aquatic complex, as a representative of the SDAT.
Identifying talent at a very young age and building it further is very crucial in sports and thereby, the state introduced and implemented the World Beater’s talent spotting scheme in 2002 with a sanctioned fund of Rs.14.37 lakhs. The scheme identifies students of classes 6-8 who are exceptional in sports through a battery of tests conducted by the physical education department of their respective schools across the state. “There are about 678 students who are currently benefited out of the scheme,” said V.V. Raja, the Asst. Public Information officer, RTI of the SDAT. The scheme does not just focus on sports talents but also ensures the academic soundness of the candidates. There are educational and regional level competitions to identify the academically sound sports candidates. “We take only those students who are good in education as well and only with those with the best educational cut-offs in the district are admitted to benefit out of the scheme,” Raja adds. For the purpose of the scheme, the schools have to maintain a separate sports report card for every student and send in results to the sports development authority of the state this, is followed by selection and trial camps held over the summer.
There is also the champion development scheme implemented by the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu that offers up to 25 lakh per year to a maximum of five years for the development of promising athletes. “This scheme covers everything from coaching and diet to health aspects of the sports person,” Raja says. But the question of the actual production of quality athletes is a matter of debate as the state does not hold a prominent position in sports on the national front. “One of the main reasons for underperformance is studies,” Raja says. “Sports isn’t given any importance as compared to studies. Students start taking off from practice once they reach either the 10th or the 12th standard and that break leads them in taking a long time for a come back later or making them quit it,” he adds.
“I don’t know about these schemes at all, I am not aware of them, hence I end up spending my parents’ money for all my coaching, matches etc,” says Akash Ganesan a national level badminton player from Chennai. Akash, who represented the state in the 2015 nationals in Sivakasi says that though the infrastructure for badminton in the state is sufficient, coupled with good coaches, there is not much financial support. “Only the top five players from the state get financial aid and that too in the form of sponsorships from companies and sports brands,” he says.
However, according to data given by the SDAT, 2,060 students are trained in various sports hostels across the state with an annual expenditure up to 90,000 per student. Also, 678 school students are being sponsored under the world beaters scheme for the year 2015-2016.
The State also has modern facilities and stadia and hosts the nation’s only annual ATP tournament and Indian International Regatta along with the usual cricket tours, Hero ISL and IPL matches. “There are enough stadia to conduct matches and practice,” says Vikasini Mariappan, who represents the district in basketball. “The only problem we face is that these stadia aren’t maintained properly and in case of any repairs, they aren’t fixed immediately,” she adds. Mr. Jawahar, a volleyball coach from the city agrees with Vikasini Mariappan, “It’s wonderful how they renovated the Nehru stadium and the Aquatic complex but, this renovation will hardly be maintained,” he says. There is a shortage of maintenance staff in these stadia. “The stadia require regular maintenance on a daily basis with a minimum of 10-15 people but, there are hardly that many people working for it there it only during the commercial tournaments that they bring in a huge maintenance team and conduct the large-scale matches,” he said.
The rural areas and the small towns have some of the best infrastructures for sports, “Places like Tirunelveli, Madurai, Trichy, etc. have large playgrounds in every school, while space remains a luxury in the schools in the city,” Jawahar added. “Some of the best players of the district and state team are from towns like Trichy, Madurai etc,” said Vikasini. The infrastructure in these towns, clearly reflecting on the performance of the athletes hailing from there.
The coaches provided by the SDAT are also well qualified and offer the best training to the sports persons. “The coaches are all former players and their experience and understanding of the game results in them giving quality training,” Akash says, recounting his training for the nationals.
Sports is taken very seriously by everyone in the department and every match, conducted by the government is of high quality and courts or tracks used are all well maintained and prepared for it. “State level matches have the best quality courts, referees and accommodation,” Vikasini adds. All these matches help in recognising some of the best players and athletes and pave way for them getting into an educational institution in the sports quota, which sometimes has a reversal of intended purpose. “There are about 500 seats in the sports quota, the students use this to get into top colleges and once the admission is secured, they shift focus to studies, leading to a drop in their performance and thus resulting in the state losing another athlete to education,” Raja says. The state teams and athletics contingent is ultimately filled with those who are ready to give priority to sports over education, which may not always give desired results. “We need to train brilliant people, people with the sports talent but with less wit and presence of mind on the filled will do more harm than good to the team,” Raja said, outlining how the sportspersons who give priority to sports are not very academically sound and brilliant.
Mariappan is one of the few sports persons who cashed the benefits of the state sports infrastructure and converted it into an Olympic gold. With generous cash rewards and multiple tournaments being conducted on a regular basis in different sports, the state is looking at sending a larger contingent to the next Olympics. Speaking at the inauguration of India International Regatta, Minister for Sports Thiru. K Pandiarajan said that the state was also looking to pioneer in watersports by including a team of sailors in its next Olympic contingent. “It might be a small number by international standards but, for us, it will be our largest ever contingent,” he said, about the goal of TN to send more than 24 athletes to the next Olympics and bring home medals.