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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A cruel race

The suicide pact of four athletes shows how India’s sports establishment has failed its talented teens.

By: Express News Service |
Updated: May 9, 2015 12:19:55 am

Indian sport has dealt with the menace of doping and the scourge of match-fixing in the past. But faced with the suicide attempt of four teenage athletes at the Alappuzha centre of the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the sporting establishment looked inept and hopelessly out of depth. The incident resulted in the tragic death of the 16-year-old rower, Aparna Rambhadra, whose dying declaration spoke of harassment and ragging. That a life spent in the pursuit of sporting excellence had to end this way is heartbreaking.

Thousands of sporting dreams are born in the 250 SAI centres across the country each year. Young people, many of them from impoverished homes, leave their families to make a life out of their athletic talent. They forsake the protective cocoon of parents and home for a gruelling, monotonous regimen of training and practice. Add to that the pressure to perform and fend for themselves in a hostel-like environment that can often be harsh and hostile.

The Indian sports establishment is woefully unequal to the challenge of setting  up a comprehensive support system that would cater to an athlete’s basic needs.

These include enough coaches, doctors, physiotherapists and trainers to deal with  various injuries, even those that are invisible to the naked eye. But there is another, equally important challenge — that of ensuring a healthy emotional environment in sports hostels, dealing with the stress of competition and various insecurities, the more
complex issues of confidence and self-esteem.

Life at a sports centre is also bound up in myriad social taboos, confined by the almost unspoken rules of the coach-athlete relationship. In such a set-up, who is a vulnerable young person tormented by ragging and bullying to turn to for emotional support? By neglecting this very important aspect of an athlete’s development, India’s sports establishment has failed its talented teens.

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