Fire on court

By T S Sudhir

For the last few years, Saina Nehwal and Indian badminton have been synonymous with each other. The ferocity of the success of the Haryanvi-Hyderabadi hurricane has eclipsed all other elements who too form part of the galaxy of Indian badminton.

The most prominent of them being Jwala Gutta. True to her name, Jwala is fire on court. Her critics would say, her problems with the badminton establishment have arisen because she is fiery off court as well. 

“I have always spoken my mind. That doesn’t mean I am a bad person,” reasons Jwala.
“We have been performing despite getting no appreciation. If the doubles players like me, Ashwini, Diju get even 2 per cent of the support and appreciation the Badminton association of India and media gives to Saina Nehwal, we would do much better. Diju and I did not have any sponsors even when we were world number 6. But Saina had sponsors when she was world number 15 and that played a part in her becoming world number 2.”
Jwala is right to a large extent. The BAI and the media have been largely focussed on Saina and her exploits, ignoring other equally commendable achievements on the world badminton stage. Jwala and V Diju till the other day were world number 6 (the ranking has now slipped to 11) and the two make a formidable pair on court.
The Commonwealth Games was Jwala’s chance to show what mettle she is made of. She went into the tournament, fighting “canards” of a link-up with former India cricket captain Mohammed Azharuddin and their respective marriages being on the rocks because of this.

A lot of things were said about me in an attempt to distract me from my game. Now after Ashwini and I won the women doubles gold at the CWG, they have shut up,” says Jwala.

“Did the talk upset you and were you going into every match wanting to prove a point,” I ask.
“I will not say the personal canards bothered me because my family and friends always knew the truth and that helped me relax. Did I go into the court with a point to prove? Well, kind of and that is because I have proved myself time and again. Two years back, when the Badminton Association of India (BAI) had put us out of the team, I and Diju moved in the mixed doubles ranking from world number 89 to 6. It was such a big achievement but not a word of appreciation from the BAI.”
Does the BAI’s alleged step-treatment create a divide between Saina and the rest of the team, I ask Jwala.
“No, not at all. We are all happy for each other. I do not resent Saina’s success. She deserves every bit of it. We only feel bad that when we are also working as hard, the BAI does not bother to push our case. It is quite degrading and one feels very demotivated. If this is the way things continue, no junior would take up doubles badminton. Anyone else in my place would have quit long back,” says Jwala.
Jwala is now preparing for the Asian Games in China with Ashwini and Diju. The level of competition at the Games that start on November 12, will be much more tough than CWG, she admits. “Physically we are very fit, it is mentally that we have to be fit if we are to beat the Chinese,” she says.
As Jwala prepares for her on-court battles, all of India would hope she carries the embers of her fiery form at Delhi to Guangzhou. Time to torch the Great Wall of China, Jwala !


Sania and Saina

By T S Sudhir

Sania Mirza and Saina Nehwal came together for a photo-op at an event organised by Andhra Pradesh Tourism in Hyderabad.

For long, their names have been confused with each other and even at the do, the hostess didn’t seem to have realised that Saina is not Sania. She referred to Saina as Sania Nehwal, not once, not twice, but thrice, even as the audience grimaced.

Saina was the golden girl at the Delhi CWG and it is pretty clear, she is India’s big hope for the future. Sania, in contrast, would hope for one last hurrah before she calls it a day.

Will Asian Games be that one big opportunity for both Hyderabadis?

Stadia belong to India

By T S Sudhir
The peak mosquito season has been around in Delhi for atleast two months now, the Commonwealth Games village went to the dogs, cows have always loved Delhi’s roads and now the snakes have made an appearance as well. When the Ayodhya verdict is out, the sadhus from Ayodhya and Varanasi, I guess will complete the Westerner’s stereotype picture of India.
The elephants will mock us after the Games, whose sports-related official budget is 11500 crore rupees, are over. I mean, the white elephants that have been constructed in the country’s capital. And if you want a sneak preview of how these world-class stadia will lie unused and remain mere architectural marvels after 14th October, look south. To Hyderabad.
The Charminar city hosted the 2002 National Games and 2003 Afro-Asian Games, for which modern stadia were constructed at a cost of 150 crore rupees (peanuts compared to the costs incurred in Delhi, and yet substantial for a poor country like ours). Of that, facilities to host seven disciplines, namely hockey, badminton, football, athletics, swimming, volleyball and basketball were constructed at the state-of-the-art Gachibowli sports complex for 78 crore rupees.
On paper, fantastic for a city that lays claim to the title of the sports capital of India. Reality is however, far removed from it.
Documents available with me reveal that between May 2004 and June 2009, that is exactly five years or say a little over 1800 days, the facilities were used for just 297 days. Which means just once a week.
Take for example, the hockey stadium at Gachibowli (see picture) built at a cost of 21 crores. It has two astroturf, which have a life of 12 years. Seven years have lapsed with no activity at the stadium, even as budding hockey talent in Hyderabad practises on gravel at the Gymkhana ground.
This even as Mukesh Kumar, triple Olympian and the best hockey player the state has produced, keeps offering to coach players. But no sorry, the astroturf is out of bounds even for Mukesh.
Since 2003, the government’s sports department has spent 12.5 lakh rupees every month to maintain the empty Gachibowli complex. That translates to 1.5 crore rupees per annum.
It is truly ironic that the stadia that are built with our money are out of bounds for our own athletes. Andhra Pradesh runs eleven academies in eleven different district of the state. Needless to say, all of them operate in abysmal conditions, and the facilities are nowhere near what the Gachibowli complex can offer. Over 1.5 crore rupees is spent every year on running these academies to train 390 sportspersons. Cost-to-state to train each sportsperson for a year : 38513 rupees. Of this, diet charges are a pathetic 80 rupees per day.
Last year, one of the seniormost officers of the state’s sports ministry pushed for shifting all the academies to Gachibowli so that the athletes could access better facilities and the complex could be put to better use. It would have also saved the government money that is spent on running the inept academies and having all sportspersons under one roof would have helped streamline training.
The proposal was ignored. And in all probability, will remain so. For, closing the academies will hurt too many vested interests. And when the next big event is to be organised at Gachibowli, the life of the equipment available now would have lapsed, which means a window of opportunity to buy brand new stuff. Tenders, quotations, purchases. That includes the two astroturf at the hockey stadium. Wow, how exciting, and in more ways than one.
The massive sports infrastructure that has come up in Delhi is also likely to meet the same as in Hyderabad. And on a larger scale, given the budgets are bigger.
The battle against the powers-that-be isn’t over. After the CWG, we need to reclaim these stadia for our sportspersons. We have had enough of the unsporting netas and babus running sport in India, who wouldn’t bat an eyelid before renting out the stadia for film and political tamashas for paltry sums of money.
The motto of the CWG 2010 is `come out and play’. India needs to get into action on 15th October, 2010.

Yeh dilli hai mere yaar

By T S Sudhir
Talk to any friend from Delhi and you would have spoken to a very unhappy soul. Dilli which pats itself on being bharat ka dil aur jaan is now caught between a rock and a hard place. And in between a lot of gravel and construction material, large pools of water, the Yamuna in spate, armies of mosquitoes and a monsoon tap that urgently needs a plumber. The list goes on. The dilliwallah with the ubiquitious sab theek ho jayega attitude now mutters profanities at the Commonwealth Games.
If Asiad 1982 transformed Delhi for the better, CWG 2010 has dealt it a body blow. Gora after gora comes and gives gyaan on how unlivable the facilities are. Fennell, Hooper, Tom, Dick and Harry have issues with workers using the toilets at the Games village and canines loitering around the premises. Yes, CWG has gone to the dogs, literally.
In the midst of all this, I read a news item about Glasgow, which is to host the 2014 CWG. 70 per cent of its venues were already in place when Glasgow won the bid in November 2007. In sharp contrast, late-lateef Delhi began the tendering process for the Games only in 2008. I wonder if we can at this stage, swap dates. Glasgow does 2010 and I am sure, if Suresh Kalmadi and team get four more years, we will indeed host a “world-class games”, with “a village that will be better than the one at Beijing Olympics”. More power and optimism to you, Mr Kalmadi.
It is not as though Team Kalmadi hasn’t delivered successful games before. The IOA president will boast about the Afro-Asian Games in Hyderabad in 2003. In fact, it was the successful conduct of these Games that Kalmadi & Co. showcased in Jamaica, that enabled India to win the CWG bid in the face of stiff competition from Canada.
But to credit Kalmadi with the glory of Afro-Asian games would be wrong. Just like Rajiv Gandhi in 1982, it was Chandrababu Naidu who personally drove this event.
Yes, Afro-Asian Games did not have had the glitz and glamour that is associated with the CWG, but then, Hyderabad played host to 96 countries, eleven more than Delhi’s 85. Hyderabad spent 150 crore rupees on constructing all its stadia, Delhi has spent 990 crores just to renovate Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, that was constructed in 1982. The total bill at 65000 crores on building stadia and other infrastructure in Delhi makes one’s heart bleed. Can India afford to spend so much just on one city, even if it is to showcase our national capital?
Kalmadi is everyone’s favourite fall guy, the butt of SMS jokes but don’t forget, the joke is now on us.
Having hung on to the top job in the Indian Olympic Association since 1996, the man from Pune has tenacity in his DNA. And having been in the Indian Air Force and fought the 1965 and ’71 wars, Kalmadi knows a thing or two about being bombed. He still hangs in there, promising all will be well.
Fellow Congressman Jaipal Reddy has caught on too, doing a Rancho Aamir Khan. Ditto M S Gill, who doesn’t realise the country is sick of his “yeh shaadi ke time ka confusion hai and everything will be sorted out last minute” Punjabi metaphor. Are Kalmadi, Jaipal and Gill doing a `3 idiots’ on India?
That’s precisely how the country is feeling like now. A land of idiots. My friend Ganesh Vaidyanathan writes to me from the UK : “Terrible coverage here in the UK of India’s preparedness for CWG 2010. It makes me hang my head in shame as an Indian.” Ironically, India’s bid motto was `New frontiers and friendships’. Dilliwallahs would concur because indeed, sab hadh paar kar di hai.
1982 and 2003 worked because in both cases, there was one man in charge. In Delhi, where power flows from the lal batthi on top of a car and every third person is a VIP, the levers of control and power operate in a rather complicated manner. Too many cooks preparing the broth means everyone assumes the next guy is accountable. Who is answerable for too much or no salt (or cement and nuts and bolts in this case), no one cares to ask and the result is the foot overbridge at the Nehru stadium collapses.
It is not rocket science to comprehend that a lot of uncommon people have made a lot of wealth in the Commonwealth Games. Sports is all about character building. Here commentators are accusing CWG 2010 of being a cash and carry enterprise. Mani Shankar Aiyer, one of the early whistleblowers on these Games, calls it “a circus and a stupid set of Games”.
Caesar’s wife should be above suspicion. Yet none of those, at who the needle of suspicion pointed when the can of worms opened a couple of months ago, have been kept away from CWG work. Prime minister Manmohan Singh, widely spoken of as a man of integrity, needs to answer how he can tolerate unclean men and women around him, and in charge of a prestigious event. Only a blind government could have turned a blind eye to the corruption and quality of work. High time the PM gets his hands dirty and becomes a part of the solution.
Ten days to go, the countdown is well and truly on. India has landed with muck on the face, after spending 65000 crore rupees. Rather costly muck this. It is the taxpayer’s hardearned money that has been dumped in the Yamuna. No wonder, the river is repeatedly flashing the danger sign.

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