CHENNAI: From time immemorial, sports has given us something to talk about, often as a conversation-starter. But to think of it as a threat and not relief, in these pandemic times, is a new normal we are trying to get used to. While the cheers and chants in all sports stadia have been on mute from March 25 for our protection from a new virus we don’t understand yet, the lockdown has shuttered the earnings of the ground staff. With entry banned into the grounds, no summer camps, and practice sessions now via online training, the support staff has little to do this season.
While this is the situation of stadia staff across the world, closer home, the caretakers, who are primarily daily wage workers, of the Mayor Radhakrishnan Stadium at Egmore are bearing the brunt of this crisis, too. Even though the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT) has employed ground staff who draw a monthly salary, a majority of them are paid daily. With their income under threat, the staff has been scrambling to reorganise their lives. In a novel initiative to help them, the Chennai Hockey Association (CHA) has collected approximately `1 lakh to pay the staff. V Baskaran, former India captain and president of the association, one of the key contributors, donated `40,00, while umpires, former players and coaches from the state have also pooled in money to help these daily wage workers.
The association plans to pay the ground staff in cash once the lockdown is lifted. In normal circumstances, it is the SDAT that pays the salaries of ground staff through the money collected as fee for using the infrastructure for training purposes or conducting matches. Summer coaching camps, college and corporate events also add as a source of income for SDAT during the months of April and May. So when Baskaran received calls of distress from family members of the ground staff, he decided to act. “We received a few calls from the daughters of the daily wagers, saying they are struggling to survive without income. They all are contract labourers. As the coronavirus brought everything to a screeching halt, the CHA decided to take care of their income for these two months.
So far we have collected around `1 lakh. We are planning to give them a few thousand at the earliest,” said Baskaran.The lives of 24 ground staff — aged around 40 years — have been hit by the outbreak. Of the total, 16 are women and some are single parents staying in Egmore, Vepery, and surrounding areas. “If we have matches for close to 20 days, they may draw up a salary of 8,000-9,000 per month. But there is no permanent job for them,” explained the Olympian. But with the home ministry now granting permission to open sports complexes and stadia for athletes to train, there is hope for normlacy and regular income to return in the lives of the ground staff.
CHA eyes July resumption
The Chennai Hockey Association Super League, which came to a halt in March, has 24 matches to be held. The home ministry has granted permission to open sports complexes and stadia for athletes to train, but there is no announcement from the Tamil Nadu government. With the state reporting an alarming number of positive cases for the coronavirus — Tamil Nadu has crossed the 13,000-mark — Baskaran believes sporting activities might resume in July once normalcy is restored.