With the world’s attention on the FIFA Football World Cup being hosted in Qatar, one tends to wonder what Bengaluru has to offer budding sportspersons in terms of quality sports training facilities. Unfortunately, such exploration offers little hope that athletes from the state, especially women, can make waves on the international sports arena.
Cricket in Bengaluru can boast of world class names like Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and others, but what about other sports? What kind of sports policies and infrastructure are available for training and development of athletes more interested in games such as badminton or football, or even athletics?
No information was available on budget allocations for sports in any of the relevant government websites. However, as per the Karnataka State 2022 -23 Budget, Rs 100 crore has been allocated to upgrade the state level and district level stadiums.
Schemes such as Amrutha Kreeda Dathu Yojane, which provides Rs10 lakh each to at least 75 sportspersons from the state to train and prepare them for the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics are in place. Efforts to revive sports in the state include initiatives such as Pay and Play system to financially support and upgrade stadiums, and the Rs 504 crore project Kreeada Ankanas to support rural native sports.
Sports stadiums in the city
The most notable state run sports facility in the city is Kanteerava Stadium. It is not just a venue for sports training and competitions but also for large political and cultural gatherings. Owned by the state government’s Department of Youth Empowerment and Sports, Kanteerava Stadium houses various state associations, like athletics, volleyball and basketball, with several courts and tracks for training and competitions.
According to data from the Department of Youth Empowerment and Sports website, the department owns only four other taluk stadiums in the city at Anekal, Honniganahatti, Devarajeevana Halli, and T. Dasarahalli, with Kanteerava Stadium designated the district stadium.
Allocations to renew the Kanteerava Stadium at a cost of Rs. 900 crore through public-private partnership were made in 2021 as per data. In addition to these, the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium for cricket, the Karnataka State Hockey Stadium, and the Bangalore Football Stadium are among the prominent stadiums in the city.
Have sports facilities improved?
A. Rajavelu, secretary of the Karnataka Athletic Association (KAA) holds an optimistic view when it comes to providing more facilities to aspiring athletes. “Times have changed and private players are now supporting sports more than ever,” says Rajavelu.
The recently laid synthetic track in the Kanteerava Stadium, and the upcoming stadiums in different parts of the state are projects he hopes will strengthen athletics infrastructure in the city. From his office at Gate 3 at Kanteerava Stadium, the veteran athlete sees around 500 aspiring athletes, boys and girls, walk in and be coached by a dozen experienced coaches every day.
While Rajavelu believes that a supportive government exists, Reeth Abraham, an Arjuna award winning athlete and secretary of Bangalore Urban District Athletic Association (BUDAA) has a different view. While facilities have improved, Reeth Abraham says there are fewer government-owned stadiums and tracks that allow athletes to practise, and that the existing ones are poorly maintained. “It has to be given to private organisations to take care of,” says Reeth. “If sports in the state has to survive, that is the only way it can be done”.
A common complaint among those training in Kanteerava Stadium is the lack of proper drinking water facilities and clean toilets, even after repeated complaints. Amisha Wadekar, a marathon runner who has taken part in competitions abroad, points out that in the post-COVID-19 environment, there has been an improvement in providing cleaner surroundings and better health care. However, she believes sports complexes and stadiums need to have first aid centres that can cater to small injuries or to dispense sanitary napkins in case of emergencies.
Qualified coaches are available to train aspirants, like Chitra Gangadharan, former international footballer and currently head coach of Bangalore United Football Club (BUFC). “The coaches have certified licences from AFC and AIFF, which are of international standards,” says Chitra. “But a lot depends on the coach on how their knowledge is applied and imparted to the players”.
Samara, a 17-year-old national level kayaker, is looking to train abroad due to the lack of kayaking training facilities in the city. Earlier a national level swimmer, Samara thinks facilities have improved somewhat, but not equally across different sports. While there are well-trained coaches, she believes their training isn’t sufficient to excel at international forums.
Unfortunately, sports remains an expensive pursuit and affordability is a key factor. “Those who can afford to join clubs or private academies can avail regular training”, says Ganghadharan.
Young people, especially from smaller towns, take to sports as achieving even a national level rank can bring them several benefits. The state and central governments provide aid to players representing the state and the country.
However, to achieve that level of proficiency in a chosen sport, the current government-owned facilities are not at all sufficient, say many aspiring athletes. For instance, many aspiring champions across the city travel long distances to access the free government facilities at Kanteerava Stadium.
Women in sports
For women in particular, sports can offer a promising future. Of course, provided that they enjoy easy access to quality and safe sports facilities and coaches. Today, they have plenty of role models to emulate, the most well-known being legendary track and field athlete P T Usha, who hails from a small town in north Kerala and is likely to become the first woman president of the Indian Olympic Association.
More women athletes have been hitting the headlines in recent times, as Reeth Abraham points out. Badminton player Ashwini Ponappa, Olympic swimmer Nisha Millet, and cricketer Veda Krishnamurthy are some examples from Karnataka who have made successful careers in sports. While Chithra Gangadharan is the country’s first qualified female football coach, and she coaches both the men’s and women’s team of the BUFC, she is also the only woman coach to handle a Super Division team. She believes there are good opportunities for women in football. The different leagues across the age groups are examples, especially the U-17 leagues.
The Karnataka State Football Association (KSFA) has both Super A and B Divisions for girls. However, Gangadharan believes that it comes down to how many women pick up sports as a career. She points out that states like Manipur, Orissa, and Tamil Nadu recruit top women players into the Police wing or the Railways, while no such incentive exists in Karnataka.
Further, she hopes a system comes in place where clubs can train these women and make them paid professional players, which will cater to their fitness and financial needs. For this she believes players need to improve their standards and prove themselves eligible, which means the state needs to help them with policies and infrastructure that reduce the uncertainty in economic security and job opportunities–key factors that prevent women from entering or continuing in sports. In addition, there is the general anxiety surrounding safety and security of women.
Sports and education
In April, this year, Karnataka Minister of Youth Empowerment and Sports Narayana Gowda announced the setting up of a sports university in the city funded by the Centre. The university is expected to train and allow sportspersons to study sports and sports related subjects such as medicine, nutrition, counselling, and others.
More awareness in schools and colleges
But sports get little priority at the school level. Samara points out how she had to switch schools due to lack of support from the management and teachers at her earlier institution. Her present institution, Reva PU College, Yelahanka, is far more supportive, she says.
Several sportspersons say that while schools and colleges should include sports as a part of the academic curriculum, students should be made aware of the different opportunities that sports can offer. For such awareness to seep in, more conversations around the same should be undertaken and society should be more open to providing support and encouragement to students who show an aptitude for sports. As Gangadharan says, “a culture of sports and fitness should be cultivated in schools”.
The city also has private academies, like the world class Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence and other academies such as Gopalan Sports Centre and Bangalore International Sports Academy. There is even a sports school – The Sports School by Kalpen Ventures and the Jain Group of Institutions – in the outskirts of the city.
However, accessibility to such institutions is restricted to high performing talent with a certain level of economic stability. The odds are rare of promising athletes from poor families joining such institutions. Further, as pointed out by several veterans, the attitude of players has changed. Their commitment to the game is fuelled more by the recognition and rewards rather than passion for the game. The priority of private institutions is to turn sports into an industry that is driven by profits.
Although the city houses Sports Authority of India (SAI), it is accessible only to the top players of the country. “SAI centre is only for elite national athletes, so it is out of the question for any upcoming athlete to train there”, says Reeth Abraham, which most coaches and upcoming sports persons agree with.
Amateurs and upcoming players are still dependent on state-owned institutions and remain at a disadvantage. While facilities and functioning of government facilities in the city have shown some improvement, it is neither adequate nor timely.
But community level sports centres in BBMP parks in neighbourhoods can ensure better access and help nurture a healthy outlook towards sports. Hence, it is time we take a step back and assess what our city offers and can and should offer to aspiring sportspersons.