Former Olympian and Arjuna Awardee Edward Sequeira, who represented India in the 5000m at the 1972 Munich Olympics, also fondly known as ‘Eddie’ is one angry man. Eddie is irked about the Mumbai University administrators’ decision to make a 160 m long and 4.5m wide road starting from the Mumbai University Sports Pavilion in Marine Lines. The road would rob the athletes of a warm up area.
This University pavilion is parallel to the Marine Lines railway track and work is on in full swing to lay a synthetic track for runners. Incidentally, the University stadium as it is known, is a practice hub for athletes from numerous running clubs across the city. Club runners have been weaned on this track because there are very few options in a city like Mumbai. The University ground’s strongest point is its accessibility by public transport. Like the iconic Shivaji Park, which is the nursery for cricket in Mumbai, the University ground has been a nursery for city athletes. The sweat of runners training through the years has soaked the ground. With sportspersons in Mumbai scrounging hard for grounds to train on and the country itself in a serious push towards more Olympic medals, it is ironical and tragic that athletes are being deprived of the few practice facilities they have.
Eddie says that he, along with his advocate S K Nair wants to fight for the rights of thousands of athletes in the city. As a first step, he has sent letters to authorities highlighting his concerns about the upcoming road (see box). He says, “It is good that a synthetic athletics track is coming up on the ground and authorities are spending more than R3 crore for it. Yet, what is the use of an international standard stadium that does not have a proper warm-up area for athletes? It is nothing but a showpiece and will be useless for hosting events because there is no warm up facility. It hurts me as a medal winner to see that the space where the athletes are supposed to warm up is being taken away to build a road that leads to the cricket stadium. Cricket has a lot of money. I do not understand why they are greedy and poaching on these poor athletes and the little area they have. I will fight for my athletes,” Eddie said displaying the combativeness that saw him garnering medals for India during his running days.
The road leads from the University pavilion till the Wankhede Stadium gates towards the North stand. Once the road is built, it will facilitate in smooth functioning and movement of vehicles (like trucks carrying supplies and food) towards the stadium. Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) President Ravi Sawant claimed he was unaware of the development. “The University ground is their (University) property. We have not requested them for any such move to have a road leading to the Wankhede stadium,” said Sawant. Even the Mumbai University sports director, U N Kendre seemed unaware about the road. “I do not have any idea of a road to be built within close proximity of the track. The site engineer should be in a position to clarify that,” said Kendre. Dr Rajan Welukar, University vice-chancellor refused to comment on the road only stating that, “The government gave us the grant to lay a synthetic track and we also put in some more money to ensure that the track is up to international standards.”
Says an angry Adille Sumariwalla, president, Athletics Federation of India (AFI), “I find it ridiculous that a synthetic track is coming up here, but the warm up area is being taken away for a road. It would be impossible to hold any athletics meets at the venue with no warm up facilities. Even the existing space we have for warm up is insufficient, one needs at least thrice that amount of space. What is this road being made for? For better access to Wankhede Stadium! I also do not understand why international athletes and Asian medallists were not consulted or part of the committee during this track re-haul.”
Site engineer Sudesh Dudwadkar said there was a plan to have a road within 0.5 m distance from the synthetic track. “We have 30 days to complete the work here. There will be a 4.5m wide road right from the entrance of the pavilion till the Wankhede Stadium gate. There will be only a 0.5m patch left for athletes to warm up. That is insufficient. But I am just following the instructions given to me,” Dudwadkar ended.