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Over the past few months, athletes and coaches at the Delhi government-run Thyagraj Stadium have been complaining about being forced to wrap training earlier than usual, by 7 pm. The reason, according to them, is this: Delhi’s Principal Secretary (Revenue) Sanjeev Khirwar walks his dog at the facility about half-an-hour later.
“We used to train till 8-8.30 pm under lights earlier. But now, we are asked to leave the ground by 7 pm so that the officer can walk his dog on the ground. Our training and practice routine has been disrupted,” said a coach.
When contacted, Khirwar, a 1994-batch IAS officer, described the allegation as “absolutely incorrect”. He accepted that he “sometimes” takes his pet for a walk at the facility but denied that it disrupted the practice routine of athletes.
The Indian Express visited the stadium on three evenings over the past seven days and saw the stadium guards walking towards the track at around 6.30 pm, blowing whistles and ensuring that the arena was cleared by 7 pm.
Built for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, the centrally located sporting complex is a multi-discipline facility that attracts national and state athletes, and footballers.
Stadium administrator Ajit Chaudhary told The Indian Express that the official timing in the evening is 4-6 pm but “considering the heat” they allow athletes to train until 7 pm. Chaudhary, however, did not share any official order specifying the timing. He said he wasn’t aware of any government official using the facilities after 7 pm.
“We have to close by 7 pm. You can find the government office timings anywhere. This (stadium) is also a government office under the Delhi government. I am not aware of any such thing (an official using the facilities to walk his dog). I leave the stadium by 7 pm and I am not aware,” Chaudhary said.
On Tuesday, The Indian Express saw Khirwar reach the stadium with his dog after 7.30 pm. The pet could be seen roaming around the track and football field even as security guards kept watch.
Khirwar said: “I would never ask an athlete to leave the stadium that belongs to them. Even if I visit, I go after the stadium is supposed to close…We don’t leave him (the pet) on the track…when no one is around we leave him but never at the cost of any athlete. If it’s something objectionable, I will stop it.”
The parent of a trainee athlete described the situation as “unacceptable”. “My child’s practice is getting disrupted. Even if they say they use the facilities late at night, can you justify using a state-owned stadium to walk your dog? This is gross misuse of power,” said the parent.
The parent, coaches and athletes spoke to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity.
The coaches and athletes say they have to train earlier in the heat since practice has to be wrapped up early. “Earlier, we continued training till 8.30 pm and sometimes even 9 pm but now we have no option. Earlier, I took water breaks once every half-hour. Now I need a drink every five minutes,” said a junior athlete.
Several athletes said they have shifted their training to Sports Authority of India’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, just 3 km away, where floodlights are on after 7.30 pm. “Children train here till 8.30 pm under the lights. Now, during the summer break, we run out of space in the practice area since the main stadium track is still under renovation,” said a coach at JLN stadium.
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