Private sponsors step in as the state government leaves rural sports players in the lurch
Bangalore, May 2, 2018: It was a cold night by the time G.Praveen got down from his bike and stood before the Nalanda School ground to show where his friend’s story started. “This is where Bharat sir first observed us practicing for the athletics tournament. He saw something in Ramesh— potential!” said Praveen with a grin. He began walking back to his bike.
“That’s when Bharat sir approached Ramesh and asked if he would train under him. Ramesh learned quickly from sir and ever since then, there has just been no looking back,” Praveen concluded, as he turned the key and the bike whirred to life.
As Praveen’s words would indicate, Ramesh Ingalagi’s record is quite remarkable. Ramesh made a name for himself by winning the gold medal for Kabbadi in the South Asian Student Olympics. This achievement is all the more remarkable when you note that he comes from a family that makes a living by selling furniture and along with practicing part-time farming.
Praveen bagged prizes in the district and the state level 100 metre-run tournaments in 10th grade. His first foray into Kabbadi was in the 11th grade that went on to fetch his team a state-level prize in 12th. However, he was never once given much help from the government which was also the case during the Ahmedabad tournament win.
“I practiced hard and earned a name, but not much has been done to encourage me. There were a lot of parties thrown for my success and I was felicitated. It was all in the papers. However, nothing concrete has been done to help me. Only individuals who cared for the game have sponsored me. That’s how it has been since school. That’s how it has always been for everyone. Budding talent in schools is ignored and many children who could have become great players are neglected,” said Ramesh, sitting in a cement shop filled with dusty bags.
Manjunath Shetty, the owner of the cement shop and one of the patrons of the sports players— including Ramesh— in Shiggaon nodded vigorously. “I myself have spent Rs. 15 lakhs on the players in here and that hasn’t been sufficient. There are other generous people who contribute, but it’s just not possible to support so many talented players,” he said.
Ramesh’s tutor since his teens, the Nalanda School Coach, Bharat Kumar, echoed the sentiment. He teaches Kabbadi, handball and athletics and has seen students with great potential in these games. “The rural areas have students who can play really well, but various things get in their way. The first problem is that the government schemes aren’t sufficient and the schemes that are in place aren’t being implemented properly,” Bharat said.
Y.Satyaraj, a sports coach from the Channapa Kunnur government high school, said, “The children I train are really nice players. However, they do not have any ambition to pursue sports as their parents discourage them. I can’t fault the parents though. Whenever I tell them to send their children to play, they ask me what benefit is there in sports. It’s something they can’t afford and that’s a point I can’t debate. When you don’t buy kits and provide the players with all the necessities, how can parents afford to send their children for sports? The schemes need to be followed through.”
Rajesh Ingalagi, Ramesh’s father, said, “I dabbled in small-time businesses and struggled to support his sports career. I pawned so many items to provide for his travels and uniform. I even asked help from friends. The government never helped us.”
A look at the grants and implementation of the schemes would prove Bharat and Satyaraj right. From 2014- 2015 the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Abhiyan had sanctioned Rs. 356 lakhs for lower level rural competitions. This depreciated by almost 25 per cent to Rs.267 lakhs.
Indiastat data shows that Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Telangana had higher budgets than Karnataka from 2014-2015 under this scheme with Rs.13.25, Rs.8.5, and 7.6 crores allotted to each state respectively. All of them witnessed a steep depreciation from 2015-2016, with Madhya Pradesh and Telangana getting allotted paltry budgets of Rs.42 and Rs.59 lakhs respectively.
In 2015, this scheme was replaced by Khelo India. The problem with this scheme is that only students who have previously qualified for state-level competitions can participate in the events they organise. This is stated in the operational guidelines of Khelo India.
Reeth Abraham, the former South Asian Games champion in long jump and 100 meters hurdle race, and the former national champion in heptathlon, who is now part of the 10 member committee that selects the participants for Khelo India from Karnataka. She is also a part of the committee that selects the training centers for these players, and said, “It is a national level tournament and so it is exclusively for those who were previously selected in state-level competitions. Even district level players cannot participate.”
“No district level players or new students can enter the competitions. The scheme neglects them,” says Jogadher Karai, the Head of the Department of Sports in Haveri, the district that Shiggaon taluk is part of.
It is also mentioned in the operational guidelines that rural and women’s competitions which were conducted under Khelo India’s predecessor, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Abhiyan, will be halted.
“I don’t think Khelo India needs to include rural players. It is a national program and it firstly needs to encourage the state-level players who are in immediate need of support. It’s doing that,” said Reeth Abraham.
Joseph Hoover, a sports journalist from Bangalore, said, “There are many great players from rural Karnataka regions. Bijapur has produced several national-level champion cyclists. Karwar and Yellapur have people from the Siddi tribe who are of African origin. They are known for their achievements in boxing and athletics. There are many great players from Raichur, Gulbarga, and Bellary. The government must stop launching schemes for publicity and start focusing on flagging programs for people from the grassroots, rural regions. Because of the lack of support, people are ignoring sports and the talent in this area is dwindling.”
“It is a form of creamy layer that is being practiced. The scheme caters only to elite players who have made it to the state-level and the rest are not allowed to participate. The untapped talent in the rural areas remains neglected. These players don’t have a platform to develop,” said Zama Ahmed, an official in the Haveri Sports Department.
The Department of Instruction data shows that Under the Vidyarthi Krida Nidhi, a scheme that collects five rupees from primary school children and Rs. 10 from high schoolers to conduct cluster sports competitions at taluk, district, and division and state levels has also seen a slump in the funds allotted. From Rs. 2, 28, 30,000 in 2015-2016 it has plummeted by 59 per cent to Rs. 1,35,77, 034 in 2016-2017. “This money is used for providing transport, uniform, food and supplying necessary equipment to the players,” said B. Malappa, an officer from the Department of Instruction.
The data also shows that Grameen Krida Utsav, a scheme to conduct sports competitions in the districts has seen a decline in allocation of funds: from Rs.183 lakh in 2015-2016 to Rs.176 lakhs in 2016-2017. In Haveri, it went down from Rs. 13.50 lakhs in 2015-2016 to Rs. 8 lakhs in 2016-2017. Jogadher Karai says the reason for this decline is the lack of budget. It has only partially recovered to Rs. 10.50 lakhs this year
“The funding is not enough for this scheme. It takes much more to conduct sports competitions,” said Bharat.
The scheme for sports hostels which was started in 2006 is facing the same problem. Under this, one sports hostel would be constructed per district. There are 50 sports students in each hostel receiving training and academic education. For each hostel, Rs. 2, 60, 000 per month has been marked. Breaking it down would show that Rs. 5,200 is being spent per student every month.
“It is a woefully inadequate amount as we must provide education, shelter and nutritious food befitting a sports student,” Jogadher explained.
Atif Khan, a state-level basketball player who is currently a coach in Belagavi, said, “The facilities I was provided when I stayed in Belgaum’s sports hostel were fine. However, the amount mentioned is too less for a sports hostel to sustain itself.”
A scheme for sports training in rural areas was to benefit 840 participants from Haveri district’s schools alone. Only Rs.10 lakhs were granted for it.
“We must provide sports kits, track suits, and appoint coaches to train the students. Apart from this we must also conduct summer coaching camps in which at least 350 students partake every year. So, the grant is impractical,” said Jogadher.
Players complain that the stadiums in Haveri are not well maintained. The funding for maintenance of stadiums has come down by 27 per cent from Rs. 89 lakhs in 2016-2017 to Rs. 65 lakhs in 2017-2018.
Under the central scheme, Panchayat Yuva Krida Aur Khel Abhiyan which was halted in 2014, Indiastat shows that Karnataka used to receive a substantial allotment for maintenance of stadiums.It had stood at third place from 2013-2014, receiving an allotment of Rs.10.2 crores while Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand stood at top two places respectively with Rs.32.55 and Rs.22.85 crores.
“Nobody here maintains the stadiums. Sometimes, when we have cricket or Kabbadi matches, we ourselves even it out and clean it,” said P.Naveen, a district-level Kabbadi player from Shiggaon.
“Stadiums are not maintained at all. It is tough to play when the ground is not proper,” said Khan.
Aside from all this, not a single coach has been appointed officially in the entire district, and there are five posts vacant in Haveri’s sports department. “That’s how this department is running. There isn’t man-power to oversee most of the aspects of our functioning. Only a few coaches have been outsourced to provide training to the students,” said Mr. Jogadher.
Last year, in 2015-2016 the sports scholarships allotted to the students in the state by the Karnataka government were 935 and this year, they have come down to 774. The number of scholarships from the central government reduced from 94 to 41.
Santosh Srinivas, a cricket player from Shiggaon who is in ninth class, said, “If they don’t give scholarship, nobody will play. We can’t convince our parents to let us seriously go into sports if we don’t even get scholarships!”
To tap the talent lying dormant in the taluk, the Shiggaon Premier League and the Big Bash League were initiated by private sponsors who have come together for their shared passion for the game. These are mini-IPLs being conducted in taluk-level by members of the Shiggaon Sports Club.
It first started in 2016 as Shiggaon Champions League with four teams and a cash-prize of Rs. 25,000 for the winning team. Then, Shiggaon Premier League followed with eight teams and cash-prizes of Rs.1 lakh and Rs. 50,000 for the winners and runners-up.
The Shiggaon Champions League came to a halt in 2017 and the Shiggaon Premier League was conducted instead—with 10 teams this time. Another new event, called the Big Bash League came into existence in the same year.
Just like the IPL, these leagues too have auctions for players. The highest bid for a player has been around Rs.10, 000. Teams are brought by various bidders in an attempt to win the cash-prize.
All these events have well-known patrons from the taluk. Srikanth Dundegowda, a road-contractor who is famous throughout the entire district for his philanthropic endeavors has donated Rs. 4 lakhs for these games till now. Basavaraj Bommai, the local Bharatiya Janata Party MLA under whose constituency the taluk falls, has donated Rs. 1 lakh.
The Shiggaon Sports Club is planning to conduct Kabaddi league games which are slated to begin this year. Ramesh and another state-level player D. Naveen have been consulted and discussions are on regarding the details. There will be eight teams and the date has not been fixed yet.
“We have been conducting these games because the government has not been fulfilling its duties. These players deserve a platform to display their talent and we are providing it to the best of our financial capability,” said Omesh Goli, the president of the Shiggaon Sports Club.
“I was a national level player in cricket and won many competitions. However, I had no support from anyone and I come from a middle-class background. Though my dreams of making it big in the game are long gone, at least I have the opportunity to conduct these games and maybe make a player out of one of these boys,” said Sadiq Sonur, the Secretary of Shiggaon Sports Club.