Want to be an athlete? Bengaluru isn’t the place for you!

A city with 1/6th of the state's population, yet Bengaluru cannot produce high performing athletes. Why?

Two years ago, Anirudh, father of a 9th standard student and resident of HSR Layout, decided to admit his daughter to a boarding school managed by a former athlete in Kodagu. Anirudh strongly feels that in a city like Bengaluru it’s not possible to send the budding athlete for training in Kanteerava Stadium twice a day due to traffic. So the child was shifted from Bengaluru to Kodagu with the sole intention of providing her a better athletics training.

Mallika Jaswanth is a mother of two school-going kids. She is a resident of Old Airport Road and works as a teacher in a play school. Last year, her daughter Rebecca Thomas, an 8th standard student and a running enthusiast, insisted that she be professionally trained in athletics.

This April, Mallika admitted her daughter at Kanteerava Stadium for training under a senior athletics coach. Soon after the school, she brings Rebecca to the stadium for practise. After two hours of rigorous training, they head back home by bus, which is 11 km away from the sports ground. By the time they reach home it’s 7 pm.

An athletics coach trains kids at Kanteerava Stadium. Pic: Akshatha M

Malini Parmar, a mother of two girls, was a resident of Bellandur till recently. She shifted her house to Richmond Town this academic year because the area where she lived lacked athletic training facilities. Her kids are genuinely interested in athletics and she has plans to provide them better training, which she believes wouldn’t be possible living in Bellandur, an area located 14 km away from the stadium. She says when she used to live in Sarjapur road, she and her daughters had to get up at as early as 4.30 am to get ready for the morning training at Kanteerava stadium. So she decided to live somewhere close to Kanteerava stadium, the hub of sports activities in Bengaluru.

There are several such instances of parents who sacrifice their time to train their kids in athletics. There are also many parents who are willing to coach their wards, but unable to do so, for traveling to Kanteerava Stadium everyday is a time-consuming job.

So, what is the training scenario in Bengaluru for kids who wish to be trained in athletics? Are there good tracks, coaches and facilities? Not really, say the coaches and former athletes.

Only three facilities for a metro city!

The city has three synthetic tracks for athletics. One is at Kanteerava Stadium, another at Sports Authority of India (SAI) campus in Bangalore University campus, Nagarbhavi, and one more at Sports School campus in Vidya Nagar on Devanahalli Airport road. SAI ground is not completely open for public, it is located quite far and is little-known among people. With only two options available, athletes and aspiring athletes throng Kanteerava Stadium for practise.

“There is so much of talent, but we are facing logistic issues,” says former athlete Reeth Abraham. She believes a city like Bengaluru should have more number of synthetic tracks for people to practise, but there is a dearth.

On the need to have more tracks, she says let alone laying new tracks, even the existing ones are not maintained. “A track made of cinders was in Jayanagar stadium. But in the name of facelift, the authorities laid tar on the track, rendering it unsuitable for use. The remaining space in the stadium is used for cricket,” she says while pointing out the shrinking practice space for athletics.

Traffic, the villain

The number of children who used to come for practise at Kanteerava Stadium has gradually decreased over the years. Veteran coach Vishwanath Rao Beedu used to train at least 50 students just five years ago. The number of trainees has now dropped to 30! Beedu attributes the reason behind low turn out to the ever-increasing traffic of Bengaluru. “Parents cannot afford to send their children to the stadium spending hours on road,” he says.

Athlete Niruapama Sunder Raj practices at Kanteerava Stadium grounds. Pic: Akshatha M

Reeth echoes his opinion. “Earlier one would reach Kanteerava Stadium in maximum half an hour from any part of the city. It’s not possible anymore. That’s the reason why parents do not prefer to send their wards for training,” she says.

‘Economically backward cannot afford it’

She feels the lack of running tracks coupled with increasing traffic, has largely affected the athletic talents from economically weaker sections. Those with money can atleast afford to send their kids for practise in private vehicles, but it’s the kids from poor families who don’t get required training. Of course, they have the option of joining sports schools run by the State government, but how good are these hostels? How well-equipped are they? she asks.

Her opinion is in tune with Karnataka Athletics Association General Secretary Chandrashekhar Rai’s thoughts. Speaking at his chamber in Kanteerava Stadium, he reflects: “Go out and see for yourself how many kids come to practice in cars. Most of the kids who come here are from well-off families. They can afford to pay a coach and travel to and fro, but not the same with those who cannot afford it,” he says.

Private v/s govt coaches

Thus comes the important aspect of athletics training – the coach. There are two categories of coaches: the government-appointed and private coaches. According to the documents available at Department of Sports and Youth Services, the total number of government-appointed athletics coaches in the entire State is just 10! Of this, two are located in Bengaluru. One coach trains students at Kanteerava Stadium and another is posted at Vidyanagar sports school. This apart, there are four coaches at SAI campus who train in-house trainees only. Occassionaly, SAI coaches do train kids interested in athletics, like during summer camps held at its campus.

Private coaches are available in plenty. At Kanteerava Stadium, in one corner you find the government coach B G Manjunath training a set of students, while rest of the space is occupied by 5-6 private coaches (from various sports clubs) and their trainees. Parents shell out anywhere between Rs 750 to Rs 1,000 per month on private coaches, while the government coach offers training free of cost.

When Citizen Matters spoke to a few parents to understand why they would hire a private coach instead of government-appointed ones, they said their decision was based on popular opinion. “I asked some of my friends about the best coach at Kanteerava and they all suggested the veteran coach here. I don’t mind paying a fee, as long as they make my children good athletes,” a parent replied.

You get what you pay for!

“The quality of government coaches is poor in Karnataka. Athletes achieve in the national level competitions, thanks to some of the good private coaches,” Chandrashekhar Rai observes. According to him, the problem lies with the way the State government treats the coaches.

The State government does not hire any coaches on permanent basis. They are all temporary coaches on paper, though some of them have been with the department for 15-16 years. The monthly salary offered to a newly appointed coach with B.PED and M.PED degree is Rs 16,000. An experienced coach gets a salary of Rs 26,000. In contrary, a private coach with 50 students under him and collects fee of Rs 1,000 per head, can easily earn Rs 50,000.

With no support and motivation from the government, the coaches are bound to perform poorly. Moreover, with the kind of salary and facilities that the government offers, none of the able coaches would apply for the job, Rai substantiates. The scenario is the replica of what is happening in the health sector, where there are not enough doctors ready to work for government hospitals, though the state produces 1000s of doctors every year.

An official from the Department of Sports and Youth Service, who did not want to be named, says hiring government coaches on temporary basis has a merit. “If they are permanent workers, they tend to lose motivation to work. None of the states hire coaches as permanent employees,” he said. However, he agreed that other states are paying better fee to the coaches up to the tune of Rs 60,000, which is not happening in Karnataka.

No talents from Bengaluru among performers!

Strangely, despite the training offered by private coaches, the high-performance athletes in the State are not from Bengaluru, but from other parts of Karnataka. Like Chandrashekhar Rai points out, be it G K Vijaya Kumar, Sahana Kumari, M R Poovamma or Vikas Gowda all of them are from other districts.

Coach Aiyappa puts it, “we lack raw talent.” He says 90 per cent of the kids who come for coaching, come just for fun. “The interest in professional athletics develops only after the age of 14. Almost 95% of them fade away from the sports scenario after they turn 20,” he says.

Athletics coach Aiyappa trains kids at Kanteerava Stadium. Pic: Akshatha M

What’s the reason? A parent told Citizen Matters she would love to see her daughter making big in athletics, but she is not sure if the situation is conducive enough. “We lack good facilities. Just look at this Kanteerava Stadium. There are no proper changing rooms and toilets. Such things will slowly demotivate the kids as well as parents. I have also heard there is lot of politics involved in the selection process so I am not very sure if my daughter has to undergo all that,” she says.

‘More synthetic tracks in zones, better coaches needed’

Aiyappa stresses on the need to lay at least 200 metres synthetic tracks in each zone in Bengaluru. “So many people call us and ask is there a synthetic track somewhere close to the place they live in. They are disappointed to hear a no. Laying small tracks can help people even to practise on their own,” he says.

Rai says there is a need to get better coaches to train talents who can’t afford to have private coaches. “Let the government bring good coaches from other states and pay them well,” he notes.

Beedu emphasises on the need to have more grounds and good administration at stadia. “In Kanteerava stadium, the ground is rented out to private parties. They are supposed to vacate the venue by 4 pm and pave way for training sessions. But, often the organisers don’t vacate on time, causing us inconvenience,” he says.

In the next part of the series, we will see what are the existing facilities for athletics training in and around Bengaluru. This is a sponsored story, on the topic of sports and athletics for young students.

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