When Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America 2014 earlier this month, whole of India rose in rejoice. But no matter how much we celebrated, she is an American citizen and our pride will only be limited to the fact that she is of Indian origin, nothing more.
Parallels can be drawn in Odisha. When Odia sprinter Dutee Chand won twin gold medals in 100 and 200m at the National Open Athletics meet last month, celebrations were no less here too. But Odisha cannot stake claim to one of the most promising talents in Indian athletics scene as she represents a PSU, ONGC, and not her own state. She is not the only case in Odisha. A state which has no dearth of sporting talents had produced hockey internationals Dilip Tirkey (former Indian captain), Ignace Tirkey, Prabodh Tirkey, Lazarus Barla and national women’s football captain Sasmita Mallick. But none of them represented the state.
Dutee, the daughter of a poor weaver , struggled through poverty to pursue her goal to be a sprinter. Aided by her elder sister and athlete Saraswati, the only support she got was being admitted to the state government’s sports hostel. But when time came for building up her talent through advanced training and coaching facilities, which she could ill-afford, the government was not forthcoming. Taken in by the Tata Athletics Academy, she had even represented Jharkhand before going into the ONGC fold.
It is a sorry state of affairs in Odisha as far as sporting atmosphere, infrastructure and support are concerned. It has failed to put in place even a semblance of a platform for nurturing talents by ensuring basic facilities for training and a proper support system for their development. Though hailed as the cradle of hockey in the country, and home to scores of internationals, the state has failed to put up proper playing fields for the talents that abound in the tribal district of Sundargarh. Holland, a country with just 50 lakh people, has more than 400 astroturfs, but Odisha with four crore population has managed only around five. The latest one, a synthetic surface hockey stadium in Bhubaneswar, took the state government seven years to build before it was unveiled in July.
The talent drain, therefore, is obvious as players move out early in their life for better training and coaching in the absence of a sports culture. Those who have earned distinction have done it by their personal endeavour.
Weightlifter Sita Jena, who won two gold and one silver medal in the 63-kg category of the Senior National Championship last year, continues without a job. All that she was offered was a job of a home guard. The state took the child running sensation Budhia Singh to its fold after a protracted court battle and he has forgotten running.
The Water Sports Centre of SAI at Cuttack’s Jagatpur has produced 223 medals, including 14 international and 151 national, in the past 12 years. Eleven rowers, including nine women from this centre, have turned internationals. Jose Jacob, the man behind the success, still remains a coach-on-contract drawing a monthly salary of `16,000. Pratima Puhana and Pramila Prava Minz, India’s first women rowers to get a medal in Asian Games, were his disciples.
There are over 35,000 primary schools in Odisha but just 6,669 have playgrounds. Sports as a part of school curriculum is virtually non-existent. Starting from stadiums to sports grounds, there is a serious dearth with few centres offering modern facilities, training and equipment. Kalinga Stadium is the only one in the state with a synthetic athletics track meeting international standards, but lies unused for years. In fact, not a single major national event has been hosted here since its inception. It is not being used for training athletes either. The CM, therefore, must look beyond merely felicitating sportspersons and start paying attention to all-round development of sports in the state.