VIJAYANAGAR : The first thing that catches your eye when you enter the sporting block of the Inspire Institute of Sport is a big black digital clock over the entrance. The numbers in red tick down as young athletes walk in and out, occasionally glancing up. Seven hundred and nine days, it says. That’s what’s left for the Tokyo Olympics.The 2020 event may be too soon for the 300 young athletes who will soon populate the IIS but for a venture with ambitions as grand as this one, targets probably need to be unrealistic. Spread across 42 acres of land, everything at the IIS, a brainchild of Jindal Steel scion Parth Jindal, is on a scale unprecedented in Indian sports.
The institute formally inaugurated on Wednesday, currently focuses on five disciplines — wrestling, boxing, judo, athletics and swimming and boasts state of the art facilities for every one of them (a FINA-approved aquatics will be functional next year). The facility will also house JSW-owned Bengaluru FC’s youth football teams.“We travelled across the world to see what was being done in other countries,” says JSW Sports CEO Mustafa Ghouse. “We have done extensive planning and on-ground research before building this facility. We visited high-performance centres across the world, collecting crucial insights into the functioning of such training institutes.”
And that is visible from the way, the 16000 sq ft gym inside the facility has machines flown in from Australia and New Zealand and an indoor running track for athletes to undergo speed test. Imagine that! An indoor synthetic running track in a country where outdoor ones are still something of a luxury. The combat hall that houses the boxers, wrestlers and judokas has flooring specially designed to absorb shock and prevent stress injuries.
And the sports medicine facility here is already advanced enough for some of India’s top athletes to come calling. Wrestler Geeta Phogat is working her way back to the mat here as was her cousin Vinesh Phogat and Olympic bronze-medallist Sakshi Malik. Asian Games-bound tennis player Karman Kaur Thandi spent time here a few months ago while Commonwealth Games gold medallist Neeraj Chopra uses the facility as a base when he is not in camps abroad. ISL outfit Bengaluru FC too camped here for a couple of weeks before jetting off to pre-season in Spain.
But perhaps the most significant thing for Indian sport is that these facilities, usually a luxury enjoyed only by elite athletes, will be at the disposal of kids as young as eleven. “The first thought that came to my mind when I saw all this was ‘I wish I had all this when I was 14,” says India’s Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi, who is on the institute’s advisory board alongside the likes of Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra and former India captain Sourav Ganguly.
“Right now, only the cream of Indian sport have access to such facilities,” says former shooter Anjali Bhagwat. “You don’t have this at the grassroots level. That is something that’s required because the start has to be correct.”There are currently around 140 kids staying at the facility with another batch due to join them soon. As they develop, training in the best of gyms, recuperating in ice baths and altitude chambers and having every single niggle analysed by state of the art machinery, they will no longer be able to make the same excuse that generations of Indian sportspersons have made. There won’t be much standing between them and success at the highest level than themselves.