A day at Tau Devi Lal Sports Complex: The severe shortcomings of sports at grassroots level in India
It is a sultry Friday afternoon in Gurgaon. The roads in the city look astonishingly empty, with everyone sitting comfortably in air-conditioned rooms, behind glass walls of large office complexes, anxiously waiting for the clock to hit seven so that they have the license to party deep into the night in order to celebrate the upcoming weekend.
Behind all the hustle and bustle of the city, is a lesser-known Tau Devi Lal Stadium, nestling quietly on Sohna road in Gurgaon. It was not always like this though. There was once a time when the football stadium in the sports complex was home to Amity United Football Club, a 2nd division I-league club. On certain occasions, the cricket stadium hosted matches for the Haryana cricket team.
Tau Devi Lal is most popular for hosting multiple matches of the now obsolete Indian Cricket League (ICL), way back in 2008. However, times have changed and it seems the complex is way past its glory years and is not even a shallow reflection of its former self. The extent to which the stadium has been neglected by the authorities is shameful, to say the least.
A few months back, the onus for the maintenance of the stadium was transferred from the cash-deprived Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA) to Gurugram Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA), but that seems to have had little impact.
The venue has been made a joke. Youngsters from around the area gather to play gully cricket in the parking area, the grounds are leased to schools to organize their sports days -- once, it was even used as a helipad. On another instance, it was used for celebrating the Independence Day last year in the presence of Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar.
When such a mega event, involving top-most ministers of the state, had to take place, the entire place was revamped, new street lights put up, potholes repaired and walpainted to look as good as new. A year later, the place is back to ruins. Every year, government authorities say that resources will be earmarked for the venue, but it certainly does not look that way.
My friends and I used to come to the Complex often, back in our college days. Sitting on the rooftop of the football stadium, seeing hundreds of children toiling in the heat made us feel that the future of sports is certainly bright in the country. However, we were extremely immature back then and recent interactions with the stadium authorities and coaches have opened my eyes to the dire situation there is at ground level.
When I visited the stadium on Friday and spoke to some of the authorities working at the stadium, I came across some shocking revelations.
Firstly, let's talk about cricket, India's favourite sport.
Cricket, a sport which is more like a religion in the country finds it's own set of limitations here. The coaching centre is run by the government.
There were hundred plus children, with fifty in the junior category itself, divided across two nets. Now, with only two and a half hours available, how much time do you think a child will get to spend batting? Hardly five minutes. Such a figure is not at all helpful for those who are looking to pursue the sport professionally. The most basic necessities like leather balls for practice are paid for by parents of the children.
However, the cricket coach at Tau Devi Lal tells us that such was not always the case.
"Government used to provide us with the basic equipment earlier. However, it is nowhere to be seen nowadays. There were sports hostels earlier, wherein the diet, the schooling, and the sports equipment, all three were taken care of by the government authorities. The hostels had fitness sessions in the morning and practice sessions in the evening. "
"Now, as most of the children who come for training are school going, hardly anyone comes for the fitness sessions besides a few of the children in the senior squad who are college going," reveals the coach.
Another official gives some more gruesome details. "The irony of the situation is that when we ask for the maintenance of the ground and for the grass to be trimmed, there is absolutely no action for days at a stretch. However, today there is a match being organized between members of the Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon (MCG) and a private company, and everything is in place.
"The pitch has been rolled, the DJ is setting up his equipment, the grass is neatly trimmed, the dugouts have been cleaned properly, and a buffet is being arranged. All this, just in a day. However, even the basic facilities each child deserves at a grass-roots level are not there when we organize matches. When the ground is rented out for a day to corporates for their 'employee engagement' matches, then a fee as high as Rs. 65,000 is charged.
"Even if a minuscule of this amount is used in the proper maintenance of the ground for us, then it would go a long way in helping the cause. I had complained about the water cooler and it took three months time to get such a small problem fixed. I can not comprehend how the authorities work so fast on one signal by the top authorities," he says.
The older children pool in money every month and have kept a groundsman but one is not enough. Just imagine, the groundsman is also not provided by the government.
The private academies have a proper schedule and conduct trials for the selection of their players. However, the government policy is that whoever wants to play can join this centre. Now, accommodating so many children is in itself a mammoth task and to top it all, the coach has to deal with so many random people who have just come to 'have fun'.
This is the biggest downside. A huge manpower deficiency is there besides lack of equipment. The situation is so extreme that even the water used to water the ground comes from the sewer. This is the only option as the motor is not being repaired.
While wandering around the football stadium, I was lucky to have an interaction with two young boys, Amit, who is thirteen and his friend Vipin, fourteen. They both study at a government school in Badshahpur and travel all the way to the stadium right after school.
"I always played in school but it was always for fun. My friend used to come here and motivated me to join him. The coach also visited the school once and told us about the free coaching that is provided at the stadium. Slowly and gradually, I developed a liking for the sport and started coming here regularly.
"My game has improved drastically and I even teach the basics of the sport to some of my classmates back in school. I am sure I will get to play for the junior state team soon," says a hopeful Amit with glistening eyes, who wishes to pursue the sport professionally.
Little does he know that he is being misled. There is no importance given whatsoever to the nutrition of the players and 'diet chart' is a term alien to the most of the children. Furthermore, the football coach makes several heartbreaking revelations. He opens up about how a few children are extremely deserving, yet they would not get selected at the state level because a 'few of the lucky ones, who have good contacts' get through without even giving the trials.
"There are dorm rooms here. Make the coaches live here, make the students live here. But no, it is better if they lie vacant and rust away," says the infuriated coach.
"What hurts me the most is that the government will reward medallists of Commonwealth Games and Olympics with crores of rupees. If a proportion of this money is used here to improve the facilities, then without a doubt there will be even more medallists in the country," concludes the coach.
There are petty issues like removing random people who are celebrating a picnic in the middle of the ground. The athletes are also put in a dangerous situation as there is no barricade between them and the footballers, so the ball may land up hitting them dangerously, causing injuries.
The Archery coach is the one who is one of the most optimistic out of the lot.
"There are plans to develop this into an international level range. However, who will get this done? When it will be completed still remains a mystery to me. Even if we think about getting it done with our own pockets, it is impossible for us to do so after an extent. A shed, which costs a lot, needs to be installed as well.
"These children are taught free of cost but they have to get their own equipment. I have made it the duty of a few children to water the trees we just planted, as the water pipeline does not reach here. They have to fill their water bottles and travel to and fro to water the plants," reveals the coach.
"The major development which will take place next is that the rough surface will be made into a lush green, level surface. The lights have already been installed, thereby enabling the children to practice at night as well. If we get the resources, we will ensure the speed of the development increases rapidly. It is just a modest beginning for us and the resources are also less.
"This is the first range in Gurgaon which has plans of becoming World Class. The most important part was to get the space. We did not even have a dedicated space until now. It is only after constant efforts that we managed to get this place. However, we are thankful it was finally done." the coach adds proudly.
We can take these children to the National level, but to push it up a notch and ensure they represent us at the international level, world-class facilities are a must. Archery is an expensive sport and as India has started winning more medals in it, the government should be allocating more resources at the grassroot level.
Barring Sunday, if you get a chance to visit the Tau Devi Lal Stadium, you will see scores of athletes and youngsters sweating it out in the heat. How can you expect these children to win medals when even the basic facilities are not there.
Spending two and half hours every day is certainly devoting a lot of time to the sport and truly a commendable feat for these children.
However, the correct mix of drills, strength training and matches is lacking. It is virtually impossible for one coach to attend over 60 children of different age groups together. Even if they were of the same age group, things would have worked out. But it is inhumane to expect one person to do so much, as even the children within one age group have different skill levels. Regardless, the coaches go on doing their job.
The cracks on the basketball court and the semi-broken benches near the volleyball court seem to be exposing cracks in governance.
There is no real direction for the children. At least they should be clear what they are playing for and have an idea of where they want to get by working so hard under the sun. However, their path is certainly hazy as most of the children just join because their friends joined or a teacher has spotted their talent.
In a country like India, where there is corruption at all levels, one does expect a certain level of corruption here as well. However, the problem is so severe and deep-rooted that it will take ages to take the corrective steps. So, now would be the right time to start.
-- From an enthusiast who still has undying hope for Indian sports