Kalinga Asian Athletic Championship: Rise of New Champions – Razeena Kuzhimandapathil & Praveen Pilassery

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22nd Asian Athletic championship held at Kalinga stadium, Bhubaneswar, Orissa from 6th to 9th July remarked the emergence of India as a new sports power. 41 nations with around 560 athletes competed this years championship. China was the unquestionable giant of the championship so far. Since the commencement of the Championship in 1973, China crowned it 17 times.. But now India won twelve gold, five silver and twelve bronze and declared as winners pushing China to the second place. Kazakhisthan won eight medals and reached third place.

There were many notable performances from Indian battalion. The shocking surprise created by Ms. P U Cithra in 1500m is a striking example of this. Archana Yadav’s gold in 800m is another feather in cap for the host nation. India won gold after 17 years in javelin throw through Chopra. Mohammed Anas won gold in 400m. Lakshmanan won gold in both 5000m and 10000m. India won gold in both 4x400m relay men and women. At the same time it is unfortunate that Manpreet Kaur failed in doping tests after winning gold in short-put.

The history of Asian Athletic Championship can be traced to 1950s even though the idea took more than two decades to realize. It is the efforts of Sardar Umrao Singh ensured the flagging off biennial championship in Marikina, Philipines in 1973. It was Japan that won the first championship. Japan continued its first position till 1981 but later China captured that position till now except 2011 Kobe, Japan. The championship was in political controversy in 1977 as it not allowed Israel to not participate; hence the championship did not happen in that year. But the controversy not stopped there. The International Association of Athletic Federation de-promoted the status of AAC; hence all editions between 1979 to1989 were named as ‘Asian Track and Field Meeting’.

Winning of ‘Kalinga war’ will be a watermark. Indian sports can be distinguished as pre-Kalinga era and post-Kalinga era now. The voyage of India at Kalinga will be an inspiration to other developing and neighboring countries as well as to the younger generation here. If state can support the sports field, by coordinating private resources too, India can show similar performances in other championships too. But winning an Asian Athletic championship does not mean that we are ready to conquer Olympics. For that we need to break many social and economic taboos i.e. we need a sports culture.

Culture point out to the positive attitude and approach towards sports. In a country where physical fitness is neither aimed nor appreciated, it will be impossible to have a popular sports culture. In India, sports is only an extra-curricular or additional to the main course. In schools, where seeds of such a culture can be planted effectively, sports is gradually going out of syllabus. Existing periods of PT (physical education) will be either compensated for lost periods of other subjects or used for cultural activities. Play grounds are replaced by new class room buildings. Public grounds are prioritized for exhibitions and carnivals against sports. In a society where half of the population is not even expected to move body parts publicly, what kind of sports culture can be created? The social structure of the society is also posing a threat. Caste discrimination not allows different caste people to play together. Women, which constitute half of the population, have several restrictions to do sports. Women are burdened with dress code to time restrictions. Safety and security of public spaces is another concern. Availability and accessibility of adequate training facilities at every corner of nation is another serious matter. If proper facilities are arranged Indian women can perform like jewels; there are sufficient number names shout here like Sakshi Malick, Mithali Raj, P T Usha etc.

Bureaucrats have a vital role. Almost all who enter jobs in sports quota are never motivated to continue in fields. For availing leave they need to approach several officers, at the end they will give up sports only. Employers must ensure a cordial atmosphere and encouraging ambience in offices for physical training. In yester years different teams of Kerala Police, FACT, SBT, Air India etc were active and in news but now it is either disappeared or breathing like a skeleton. All these teams must be re-created soon.

Money is necessary for advanced level training as well as exposing young ones to sports. Sports is a skill that need to be acquired through rigorous years of practice which makes money as the essential factor. Usually one sportsperson’s career will end in his late twenties. Security of later life is definitely a concern of such people. Career recruitment from field is essential. Providing fiscal incentives in the form of tax exemptions for earnings from sports or reduction in import duties on expensive sports equipment are relevant to consider. The crux is that India is ready; athletes proved that in Kalinga. Now the nation must respond proactively.

The only international sports tournament that India wins is SAF games because other participants of the tournament are very poor in their achievements in sports. It is Pakisthan, Afganisthan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmer, Sri Lanka and Maldives participate in SAF Games other than India. These nations are not capable of challenging India in most of items (China is not invited to attend it because of India’s interests; plus China is not a member of SAARC).

There is a belief in Orissa that olive turtles will bring luck. Mascot of the championship this time was ‘Olly turtle’ but it may be true that winning a tournament of such a high scale cannot be simply a matter of luck. Beating the sports giant, China is definitely the result of talent, training and planning. The championship proved that India is capable of winning international championships other than cricket and wrestling. The only other international sports tournament that India won recently South Asian Games 2016 bagging 308 medals. The 188 gold medals won by India is almost four times the combined gold houl by the rest of the participants. Pakisthan, Afganisthan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmer, Sri Lanka and Maldives also participated in SAF Games. These nations could not challenge India in most of the events.

India had a dismal record in international tournaments like Olympics, Asian Games, World Athletic Meet etc. Those countries which are either less populated or least developed are making more medals in these tournaments than India. In such a context, achievements of Indian youngsters at Kalinga are particularly important. It is for the first time, India outperformed everyone else particularly China. It is true that China expected to be champions but everyone under estimated the growing trained sports talent of Indian youngsters. Let us hope, Kalinga Asian Athletic Championship mark history as the rise of India as the new champions of Sports.

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