VELLORE: Weightlifting, which made Vellore district and particularly Sathuvachari popular in the international arena, is slowly fading from this part of the State. Poor facilities and lack of financial assistance from the government are laying waste to young talent that is capable of winning medals at national and international levels, and forcing youngsters to stay away from the sport.
Famously known as the cradle of weightlifters, Vellore district has witnessed a drastic decline in the number of weightlifters in the last couple of years. The district has produced nearly 15 international players, Arjuna awardees and Olympians and more than 80 national-level players since the mid-1980s. Of the prominent weightlifters from Vellore is Sathish Sivalingam of Sathuvachari who bagged the gold medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in the 77-kg category.
Till a decade ago, every team that represented the country in international events had one or two lifters from Vellore. Many won laurels for the country and the State. Though it is a tough sport and needs continuous and rigorous training, many youth from middle and lower middle classes opted for it earlier as it guaranteed employment in the government sector. Later, it turned into a passion for many.
After weightlifting categories were trimmed from 15 to eight (56 kg, 62 kg, 69 kg, 77 kg, 85 kg, 94 kg, 105 kg and 105+ kg) in the early 1990s, employment opportunities in Central and State governments dwindled, according to T Muthu, a 40-year-old Olympian and Arjuna awardee. He won gold in the Commonwealth Weightlifting Championship in 1999 and represented the country in other international events.
Hitherto, five to six weight lifters landed government jobs in a year. “Now, not even two get jobs in a year. The State government is showing no interest in recruiting national-level players,” said E Sekar, a former international weightlifter.
From anywhere between 150 and 200 players at any point of time in the 1990s, the number fell as the years rolled on. “Now, there are hardly 50 young weightlifters in the district under training. If the scenario continues, there will be no weightlifters from Vellore in a few years and the sport will vanish from here soon,” said Muthu.
Poor training facilities with below par equipment and non-availability of qualified trainers and support staff has made the situation worse.