Shillong, Oct 27: Yesterday, the Meghalaya government handed out Rs 12.5 lakh to armwrestlers and bodybuilders who won medals at recent international events in Turkey and Vietnam respectively.
That the government wasted no time in organising such a function – on the very day that the armwrestlers returned to the state – suggests to TSR that it was an attempt to cover up for the zero medals that Meghalaya earned at this month’s National Games. Or it could be to squeeze it in before the Model Code of Conduct prevents politicians from publicity-seeking events.
But, leaving that aside, where are we, as a state, going with this? Armwrestling and bodybuilding? Not to castigate these activities, but since we seemed to have failed in more mainstream sports, is the government now having to find some glory in these more niche events?
Where will it end? In the past, the state government would often deny financial aid to athletes if their discipline was not an Olympic sport. Now that reasoning seems to have been abandoned but has the government drawn a line somewhere? If I win an international competition in tiddlywinks or pick-up sticks, can I get Rs 5 lakh too? There was, TSR recalls, an international martial arts competition where a Meghalayan bagged a gold medal. Fantastic, amazing, sensational! we all thought. But, as it turned out, he got a bye in the first round and the second round was the final. Should that count?
Maybe it should and perhaps the armwrestlers and bodybuilders also deserve their rewards. But TSR is worried that the state government has no procedure laid down for this. It’s easy to give away money and even better to do it where politicians can get their picture taken with gold medallists.
The other thing that politicians like is infrastructure. Hundreds of crores of rupees will be spent on developing sports infrastructure in Meghalaya in the coming years, the Chief Minister said yesterday.
But developing sports has to do with more mundane activities at the grassroots – facilities need to be maintained and athletes need to be scouted and coached. Not much publicity for politicians in these.
It is an oft-repeated criticism that sports infrastructure is centred on Shillong and ignored in other towns and rural areas. True. But that doesn’t mean that athletes are enjoying the best even in the state capital. Karatekas and table tennis players have been allotted rooms to train under the JN Stadium gallery – down a dark corridor and with a filthy nearby toilet that reeks. JN Sports Complex tennis courts – useless; basketball court – open to the elements. U Tirot Sing Indoor Stadium, home for badminton and table tennis – demolished.
And don’t lets start on football infrastructure, a subject we’ve covered before. But let us end by asking why did the Sports Department not appoint Meghalaya’s tried and tested coaches to lead the state’s Subroto Cup teams? All three sides – U-14 boys, U-17 girls and U-17 boys – crashed out in the quarterfinals. They cruised through the group stage but each lost their high-pressure knockout match. Could the players have benefited from having better coaches? That’s a subject TSR wants to explore…