BENGALURU: For more than three years now, national and state track & field athletes and their coaches have been facing an increasingly uphill battle to train at Sree Kanteerava Stadium. The athletes have restricted access to the stadium in a narrow time band and have been barred from training on the turf. This is due to the stadium being used by the Bengaluru Football Club (BFC). Athletes and coaches are disgusted by this surreptitious takeover by football.
This transformation of an athletics stadium to one dominated by football is the story of Indian sport -- inept, insensitive, corrupt officials, disinterested ministers without any vision and a total lack of understanding and sensitivity towards the needs of the athletes. When the BFC shifted its base to Kanteerava in 2013, the athletics fraternity was not consulted.
The existing Karnataka State Football Association’s (KSFA) football stadium, located at Ashok Nagar, was to get a makeover for the junior World Cup this year. In fact, Bengaluru was to host the inaugural match but for reasons best known to AIFF, Bengaluru is no more a venue for the World Cup!
Why has the BFC not gone back to the football stadium now that Bengaluru is no more a world cup venue?
I was told that the football stadium seating needed an upgrade. Well, they had three years and more to have got that done. Construction of the football stadium at Ashok Nagar started in 1967. Fifty years later, it is still under construction!
Why do track & field athletes have to bear the brunt of the ineptness of the KSFA and the Sports Ministry? And if BFC was allowed use of the Kanteerava stadium for a limited time, how is it that they are calling the shots? It’s like the proverbial camel who was given room for his nose in the tent and ended up occupying the entire tent!
As president of Bangalore Urban District Athletic Association (BUDAA), I made several representations to DYES as well as to the sports ministers, but to no avail. A few days ago, when BSF guards and policemen carrying guns stopped athletes from entering the stadium, it was the last straw. BUDAA called for a protest meeting of all track & field athletes. An appeal was made to the Chief Minister to intervene. It was decided at the protest meet that the athletes would train on the turf, even if it meant courting arrest. Thankfully, it did not come to that.
I remember when training in the early 1980s, the stadium, which had a cinder track, was also a velodrome. The cyclists and we coexisted peacefully. So, not for a moment am I against football. All sport must thrive. The problem is that little has been done to ensure that athletics and other disciplines also thrive.
Just as the football stadium has been leased to the Karnataka State Football Association, Chinnaswamy Stadium to the Karnataka State Cricket Association, hockey stadium to the Karnataka State Hockey Association, why can’t Kanteerava Stadium be leased to the Karnataka Athletics Association? Kanteerava Stadium is still under the Department of Youth Empowerment and Sports and I have heard rumours that they are planning to give the stadium on a long-term lease to a foreign football team! If that is the case, then RIP athletics in our state!
(Ashwini Nachappa is a former international athlete and President of the Bangalore Urban District Athletic Association)