CHENNAI: The problem that the Tamil Nadu Athletic Association (TNAA) is facing might not be significant now. But in a few months' time, it could be.
With the Athletic Federation of India (AFI) planning to begin the season by September if the danger pertaining to Covid-19 comes to a halt, the senior open national championship — the second tournament on the calendar following the Indian Grand Prix — will be hosted by TNAA from September 20 to 24.
Availability of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and lack of quality equipment are the major concerns for TNAA at the moment. With Chennai showing no signs of flattening the coronavirus curve — the city has crossed the 16,000-mark and has approximately 7,500 active cases — it is unclear on how long the stadium will be used as a shelter point for migrant workers. TNAA has also been forced to keep their office, which is at the stadium, shut due to this reason.
According to the C Latha, the TNAA secretary, the association had to make do with the poor quality landing mats for pole vault and high-jump events in the past. Though the athletics body had written to the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDAT) and the state government multiple times asking for funds to replace the equipment, Latha claims that there was no proper response.
"For the past three years, we have been asking the SDAT and the government for financial support to replace the equipment. However, they have not considered our request. Elite athletes from across the country will be taking part in the senior nationals in September if it happens as per the schedule. Athletes from other states fear to come to Chennai for tournaments because they worry hurting their back due to the sub-standard landing mats that we have," elaborated Latha.
The secretary added that they are also exploring the option of hosting the meet in other districts — Coimbatore, Madurai, Tiruchirappalli have synthetic tracks — in case the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium is not tournament ready by then.
However, even the back-up plan is not without any challenges. "We have several synthetic tracks in Tamil Nadu. But not every facility will have the proper equipment like hurdles for eight tracks, landing mats for pole vaulters and high jumpers, and starting blocks for sprinters. Athletics is not just running. If we are conducting a meet in another district, they won't have these mats too. We have to transport them at a cost of `15,000 and bring them back to Chennai carefully," Latha said.
A quality landing mat costs at least a few lakhs. Even if the TNAA decides to bear the cost and purchase it before the nationals, Latha feels finding a sponsor at the moment when the economy is down will be an onerous task.