CHANDIGARH, LUCKNOW, BHOPAL,RANCHI: Naseem Ahmed is flooded with calls. He is an athletics coach. Neeraj Chopra was under his tutelage at Haryana’s Panchkula Stadium.
The javelin thrower’s gold medal at Tokyo Olympics has sparked a sudden interest in athletics. Parents are calling up Ahmed and asking how to enrol their children at the training centre.
“In the last week, after Neeraj qualified for the final, there have been around 100 requests. It increased after he won gold. This morning, we received around 50 requests from parents. A majority of them are for javelin. Some said they want their children to take up any track and field event. Most of them are from rural areas. There is a sudden surge in enthusiasm for athletics,” said Ahmed.
It is the same at Lucknow’s KD Singh Babu Stadium which houses an athletics training centre, Surjit Hockey Academy in Jalandhar, MP Women’s Hockey Academy in Gwalior, Women’s Hockey Academy in Ajmer and Girls Hockey Training Centre in Jharkhand’s Simdega.
Wrestling akhadas are also reporting a rise in admission enquiries. Even though Indians did not win medals in shooting and archery, these sports are also drawing attention.
“My phone has been ringing continuously. Everyone wants their children to be an athlete, which is a very good sign for Indian athletics,” says VR Varun, secretary of Lucknow Athletics Association.
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Budding athletes reside in the hostels of KD Singh Babu Stadium.
Since Saturday when Neeraj claimed gold, there have been numerous calls for information on admission in javelin throw and other track and field events.
Jharkhand is home to Salima Tete, a member of the Indian women’s hockey team which finished fourth in Tokyo.
Coach Pratima Barwa, who honed her skills in the formative years, is receiving lots of calls from people asking how their daughters can become hockey players.
“Since it is the sowing season and most of the children playing hockey belong to rural backgrounds, no fresh admissions are taking place now. Once the sowing season is over, there will be a rush for admissions,” said Barwa.
Gwalior’s MP Women’s Hockey Academy has produced Sushila Chanu, Monika and Reena Khokhar, who were part of the Olympic team. Coach Paramjeet Singh notices a new trend in the enquiries.
“Earlier, girls mostly from poor families or families with some sports connection came to us. In the last few days, affluent families from MP and other states approached us. A teacher couple from Punjab, a doctor couple from Indore and a businessman from UP want their daughters to join us.”
Vishwajit Shinde, who runs Savarkar Rifle Club in Mumbai’s Dadar, is witnessing the same.
“There is a big rise. In the last few days, we got about 100 inquiries and 46 registrations. We never saw such numbers in an entire year.”
Subhas Nair trains archers at Mumbai’s Dhanushree Sport. From eight, the number of students under him has gone up to 80 in just a few days.
In urban India, sports mostly means cricket. Thanks to the Olympic success, that seems to be changing. Shivraj Singh of Jaipur is the director of Digital Sales IRA, which has tie-ups with 36 sports companies.
They connect youth willing to take up sports to various academies. “I used to fill up forms of cricket academies.
Now athletics, football, hockey, weightlifting and wrestling are in demand. It is good that they like sports other than cricket and believe a career can be made.”
Inputs from Rajesh Asnani (Jaipur), Sudhir Suryawanshi (Mumbai), Harpreet Bajwa, Namita Bajpai, Anuraag Singh, Mukesh Ranjan