At a time when the Indian Super League has triggered a football fever in the country, legendary long jumper Anju Bobby George and the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) have come out against the Sports Ministry for leaving stadiums in various cities for the cash-rich football tournament at a cost of other athletes.
Anju and the AFI on Wednesday slammed the Sports Ministry for denying permission to host National Championships by locking up the stadiums for ISL.
Anju, a columnist for Onmanorama and the lone Indian track and field athlete to win a World Championships medal, said that stadiums meant for track and field in New Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai have been rendered out of bounds for the athletes for competition as well as for training.
"Football has taken over athletics everywhere, there is no place for athletes to train and to compete. See at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, Kanteerava in Bengaluru and JLN Stadium in Chennai, you cannot use these venues as football tournament (read ISL) is going on. Where do the athletes go? It is very sad," Anju fumed at a press conference to announce the Run Adam Federation Cup National Senior Athletics Championships in Patiala from March 5 to 8.
"Even the athletes are not allowed to do practice at these venues, be it in Delhi or the SAI Centre in Bengaluru. These venues in Delhi, Chennai and Bengaluru have good tracks and are basically athletics stadiums. But strangely they are not being used for athletics," said Anju, who is also a government observer for athletics.
AFI secretary C K Valson said the federation wanted to host the Federation Cup at the JLN Stadium in the national capital but it was not available due to the ISL.
Last year also, the same championships was initially scheduled to be held at the JLN but later shifted to NIS Patiala after the AFI was told to have the field events (shot put, javelin and discus) at the adjacent training ground.
"For 6-7 months, all these stadiums where there are good tracks and good facilities for field events are being booked by ISL. Then where will we go, where will the athletes go? We have to host these national championships in Patiala or somewhere," he said.
"Last time also, we wanted to host the Federation Cup at the JLN Stadium here but had to shifted to Patiala at the last minute because of the ISL matches. They will not allow us to use the central area of the pitch for throw events. They wanted our athletes to do throw events at the adjacent training ground. This time also we made the request but because of ISL, we cannot use the JLN Stadium for Federation Cup," he added.
The JLN Stadium here is being booked for ISL matches by the Delhi franchise by paying a huge sum to the government.
The center pitch is the most important part for a football match and the ISL is very strict on the good quality of pitches. If an athletics field event is held on this central portion, there is every chance of the green pitch being damaged. So, this central pitch is the bone of contention.
"The Fed Cup is a National Championship and a qualifying event for Commonwealth Games. Do you expect the athletes to compete at the training ground. I want to ask a question to the government, whether you want to commercialize sports or you want Olympics or Asian or Commonwealth medal?" asked Valson.
It is also learnt that the sports ministry initially demanded the AFI Rs 1.5 lakh for using the road surrounding the JLN Stadium for the National Race Walk Championship on February 17 but later allowed the federation to use it for free following intervention by higher authorities.
Meanwhile, more than 700 athletes will take part in the Federation Cup which will serve as a qualifying event for the Gold Coast CWG. After the event is over on March 8, the selection committee of the AFI will pick the Indian team the next day. Four race walkers -- two men and two women each in 20km -- have already been picked in the Indian team after the February 17-18 National Championship here.
Valson said that no athlete who does not take part in the Federation Cup will be picked for the Commonwealth Games even if he crosses the qualifying mark or is a national record holder.
This year's Federation Cup is being sponsored by Run Adam, a sporting talent app. Run Adam also sponsored the Indian Grand Prix-1, the season opener of AFI, which was held on Tuesday at NIS Patiala.