In a shocking case of official apathy, the Kerala contingent participating in the 34th National Junior Athletics Championships in Ranchi was forced to travel in harsh, inhuman conditions on the Dhanbad–Alleppey Express train.
The 46-hour-long journey turned into a horrendous experience for the 136-member squad as there was a mad scramble for every inch in the compartment to squeeze themselves into any available space. The coaches were airless and smelly and there was hardly any breathing space.
Some of them occupied the floor while some others fancied a nap sitting or lying on the luggage. Out of the 136 members of the team, only 24 were travelling with reserved tickets.
The children, who somehow managed to sit in the cramped seats, cowered in fright when fellow passengers fought for space leading to altercations. The budding athletes said they felt drained and tired due to lack of sleep.
“We were even forced to suppress the urge to go to the toilet because someone else would take our space if we moved away. As every inch of the floor is occupied, it was also quite difficult to wade across the compartment,” said a team member.
Most of them couldn't sleep a wink at night and they caught up on lost sleep during the daytime.
“We reached the training camp in Palakkad on Tuesday morning after taking part in the State School Athletics Championship in Thiruvananthapuram which concluded on Sunday. The same afternoon, we boarded the train to Ranchi. Before setting off on the journey, we thought we would be able to take some rest amid this hectic schedule. But the whole trip turned out to be nightmarish experience,” lamented an athlete.
No end to misery
The team reached Ranchi at 9 am on Thursday after the two-day-long dreadful journey. There was no end to their misery even after reaching Ranchi as there was only minibus to pick up the 136-member squad to the Birsa Munda Stadium after a long wait.
The youngsters hope that the exhausting trip would not affect their performance as they look forward to regain the overall title at the Nationals which they lost to Haryana last year in Hyderabad.
Uncertainty over venue blamed
Meanwhile, the state sports authorities blamed it on the uncertainty over the dates and venue for not booking train tickets in advance.
“There were rumours that the championship would be shifted to Guntur. The confirmation regarding the venue came at the last minute. We booked 160 tickets on September 19. By then the waitlist had already been prepared. The State Sports Council was ready to pay extra and book special coaches for the children, but the railway authorities informed us it would not be possible. Athletes from many other states too reached Ranchi in similar conditions,” said Kerala State Athletics Association secretary P I Babu.
According to him, most of the tickets are still not confirmed for the return trip as well. The authorities are striving hard to reserve tickets in weekly A/C trains by mobilising funds for the same via sponsorship. Olympian Mercy Kuttan, who is also the state sports council vice-president, is taking the initative to rope in sponsors, it was learnt.