Of a sports dream gone sour

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 24 May 2018 09:37:48



The wave of happiness that swept the city’s sporting community was palpable. For, the Maharashtra Government had allotted three large plots of land along Amravati Road for sporting activity. It had given grounds for sporting bodies controlling hockey, football, and volleyball contiguous to the Agriculture College premises and opposite the Hislop College Ground on the northern side of the Amravati Road. The grounds allotted for the three sports actually used to be under the city’s garbage dump, which used to be technically outside the western border of old Nagpur those many years ago. Then the authorities shifted the garbage dump to Bhandewadi and gave that land for three sports. The moment the news was known to the citizens, the sporting community danced in sheer joy that a great addition had taken place to the city’s sporting facilities. 


That was more than four decades ago. The grounds got allotted to Vidarbha Hockey Association (VHA) right next to the Agriculture College premises, to the Vidarbha Football Association (VFA) next to it, and to the Vidarbha Volleyball Association (VVA) to the west. As per people’s expectations, the three bodies began using their respective plots after the undulating land was levelled out with the countless lakhs of tonnes of garbage and countless thousands of truck-loads of boulders and soil brought from elsewhere. It was a sight to see when all that work was going on. Passers-by would stop and show one another how sports would flourish in that patch soon.

The moment the plots became grounds of sorts, the activities of all the three associations began. People could see youngsters playing, and feel cheered with the shouts and calls natural to any sport. As a young hockey player, even I remember having gone to the VHA ground for my evening or morning practice sessions. The ground was hardly good enough for a proper play. Yet the fact that there was a separate ground allotted for hockey, was good news that made us happy.

Similar activities also got started on the two neighbouring grounds. And I recall that those were heady days of sports. India was world champion in hockey and Asian champion in football. Every hockey and football player would feel connected with the championship stuff. At least I felt that I would soon join the Indian hockey team (and I am sure everybody would pardon me for those dreams!).
But then something untoward started happening. All the three grounds came under the threat of encroachment by slum-dwellers. On the fringes of all the three grounds, people started seeing hutments coming up. The authorities of the VHA and VVA were quick to respond and took an immediate help of the civic administration to clear off the encroachments.

However, nothing of that sort happened with the football ground. Under the unholy patronage of a few political leaders, hundreds of hutments came up on the plot for football. The political leaders did not feel a sense of shame that they were allowing uncouth elements to occupy a sporting facility allotted by the State Government.

Today, on the plot allotted for football, there is a complete slum which nobody would now dare to remove for various reasons that revolve around vote-bank politics of selfish politicians. The slum is not just a slum but also a hotbed of undesirable activities including crime of varying natures.
Nothing could be more unfortunate for city’s sports.

On the volleyball ground, however, some sporting activity is all the time going on, though under rather crude -- or primitive -- conditions. At least, that plot still hosts volleyball activities.
But what pleases every sports fan in the city is the glory the hockey ground is experiencing for the past one decade and more. The VHA bosses took pains to convert the previous crude ground into a fine playing arena plush with lush green lawns on which playing hockey is sheer pleasure.

It is a sight to behold in mornings and evenings as players get engaged in playing systematic hockey under the careful gaze of the officials and coaches. The shouts and calls of the players as they gather speed in playing are nothing but sheer music to the ears of sports lovers of the city. Not only has the ground been hosting various tournaments for all levels, but is all set to have more modern playing facilities in the near future. All this is happening because of the alert officials of the Vidarbha Hockey Association. True, there is some politics there as well. But then, it also acts as a trigger to the incumbent officials to keep working for the betterment of the game so that they get elected again after the lapse of their tenure.

Next door on the football ground, however, the slum is ‘flourishing’ with all its ugliness, with all its crassness, with all its squalor.
As an ardent sportsperson, I have often grieved about the hapless condition of the football ground. The Vidarbha Football Association has become defunct long back, and the football activity is managed by the Nagpur District Football Association (NDFA). This body conducts its activities elsewhere since the allotted plot is in the grip of all evil forces.

When such things happen to sports, we cannot expect our country to be one of the top global sporting powers. For, the pursuit of excellence in sports begins on the community sports ground next door -- anywhere in the world, may it be for a Sunil Gavaskar or a Sachin Tendulkar or a Saina Nehwal or a P.V. Sindhu or a Sania Mirza. But when that community playground is not available, sports just dries up.
Whenever I pass by the three grounds, the slum on the football plot stabs me in the heart. I really do not know if anything good can ever be tried by way of offering an alternative site to the slum-dwellers there.

And I also don’t know if there is any political or civic leader in the city with such a vision and will to get things to move.
But each time I pass by the place, my heart bleeds, and my eyes become misty. In the solitude of my car, sans any melodrama, I allow my tears to stream down.