Even as Pune gears up to host the second Khelo India Games in 12 days, it has emerged that more than half of the athletes handpicked from the inaugural edition haven’t joined the government’s flagship programme.
Out of the 1,518 under-17 athletes selected by a high-powered committee, only 625 have joined the training camps at 89 academies identified by the sports ministry. The primary reason for the remaining 893 athletes giving these camps a miss was their reluctance to leave their schools in the middle of the academic year.
“625 out of the total number of Khelo India talent have joined academies in 2018, while the others have not yet joined because Khelo India talent is selected through the year, and it is not possible for all the players to change their schools in the middle of the academic year to join an academy,” informed SAI director general Neelam Kapoor.
While the first edition of the Games ended in early February, the government released the first list of athletes only in July after conducting dope tests and age verification. The National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) said in March that 12 medal winners from the Games had tested positive. Many more were weeded out because they were found to be overage. The final list was released in December after fresh names of talented athletes were added to those who made the cut during the Khelo India event. This delay was responsible for many athletes not opting to join the training camps.
Kapoor said that this year, they would finalise the list by February, “so that the players can join the accredited academies in the start of the academic year and balance their sporting career as well as education.”
Under the Khelo India programme launched last year, the government planned to identify and train athletes and provide them an annual assistance of up to Rs 5 lakh each for eight years. According to officials involved in the project, the confusion over financial remuneration also led to several pullouts.
A trainee, who decided not to join the programme, said his coaches and parents believed he receive Rs 5 lakh annually under the scheme. But after the government announced that the actual stipend would be Rs 10,000 per month (Rs. 1,20,000 annual), he had second thoughts. Kapoor said the grant of Rs 5 lakh per year included costs incurred for “training, kitting, equipment, fooding and lodging in an accredited academy, and an out-of-pocket expense for each scholar at Rs 10,000 per month.”
Another reason why several trainees decided not to join the programme was the fact that they would’ve to leave their existing academy and coaches, and relocate to the centre assigned to her/him. According to the terms laid down by the government, athletes did not have the option to continue training at their original academy and avail the benefits of the scheme.
For the second edition, the government has merged school and college level categories for a combined Khelo India Youth Games. It will be held in Pune from January 9 to 20.