The Kerala state school athletics meet begins at the University Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday. However, the meet has already ran into controversy since the number of competition days has been cut short from four to three and the fact that there will be no medals awarded to the winners this time since the government has gone in for cost-cutting measures citing the unprecedented August deluge that ravaged the state.
I strongly believe the meet should have remained a four-day affair for the simple reason that it allows budding talents a breathing space between different disciplines. By cramping up the schedule, the organisers have placed a huge burden on the young shoulders.
Frankly, it would have not cost the education department much if the meet was held over four days. The important thing to note here is that the schools take care of the expenses of their athletes. I fully agree with the government decision to drop the opening and closing ceremonies. But there is no doubt that the winners should have been awarded medals. Seriously, how much a medal will cost? But the value of that medal to a budding athlete is priceless.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the central government and the Athletics Federation of India have placed utmost importance on young talents in the country of late. India's fine run in the recent Youth Olympics bears testimony to that. So in that backdrop the decision of the organisers to exclude the athletes who ended up third in the district meet from competing in the state meet can only be termed a big blow to the aspirations of the hopefuls.
I believe had the government or the education department taken the initiative to talk to the officials they would have happily agreed to officiate in the state meet without taking a single rupee. A flexible or pragmatic approach would have resulted in the athletes getting ample rest and also more competitors getting a chance to showcase their skills.
I can feel the disappointment of the youngsters. The school meet is the first step to excellence on the sporting arena. I have fond memories of competing in school meets. I was adjudged the best athlete in the junior section in the meet held at Pala in 1992. Likewise, the youngsters need all support in their pursuit of excellence.
Now, I would like to bring to the attention of one and all how selfish acts of coaches or a coaching centre can hamper the growth of rising stars. Recently a promising hurdler, who had qualified for the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires, was forced to pull out of the prestigious event citing an injury. The shocking news was that this same athlete made a 'miraculous recovery' and took part in the state junior championship held in Thiruvananthapuram on the same dates as the Youth Olympics and won the gold in record-breaking time!
Anyone can realise that it was a dirty trick played by the coach to have his ward compete in the state meet and gain monetary assistance to his centre when the athlete should have been in Argentinian capital gaining vital exposure. Such short-cited decisions can have an adverse effect on the athlete. The entire fault lies with the coach and as a former athlete and as a current administrator I can only empathize with the poor athlete.
(The author is a former World Championship bronze medal winner in long jump)