On Saturday, this paper ran a front-page piece on how Mumbai’s U-19 National hockey team was made to return from Sonepat in Haryana on unreserved tickets, as the Mumbai Hockey Association had not booked berths on the train. The team members, who were already exhausted after the tournament, had an 18-hour ordeal on their way back as they had to stand for hours in the train. They were tossed from one part of the train to another, and finally had to squeeze themselves into a panty car and many of them were forced to wait near reeking train toilets. While the team’s coach returned via flight, their manager wangled a sleeper berth for himself.
Sadly this is a familiar story of every other Indian sport even at a time when the country fancies its shot at the Olympics and must now train its sights on 2016 at Rio de Janeiro. For decades, Indian athletes have had to make do with appalling conditions whether it is accommodation or travel. Staying awake all night in buses and trains, sleeping on floors, squeezed into rooms meant for much lesser numbers, Indian athletes have been through this and a lot more.
It is hypocritical and in fact, counterproductive to vie for events like hosting the Asian Games or the Olympics when our grassroots competition is mired in this muck and our young sportspersons continue to be treated like dirt. If we are to become a sporting superpower we need to put our money at the lower levels grooming and nurturing youngsters and giving them good facilities rather than simply eyeing international laurels. Without a sound base, the most ambitious projects will crumble.