After a hiatus of four years, the 35th edition of the National Games was finally flagged off in Kerala amidst huge fan fare on Saturday. But the build up to the Games has been dominated by unprecedented delays, alleged corruption scandals and no show by star players. Over the next fortnight, though, more than 10,000 athletes and officials will take part in 33 disciplines across seven districts of Kerala, making it the biggest sporting event in the country.
Delays… and more delays
Awarded in 2007, the Kerala National Games were originally slated for 2010 but owing to the backlog of previous editions and the unpreparedness of the state itself, it has been pushed back more than once. The organisers had several difficulties in completing the infrastructure and procuring equipment. However, they managed to get things in place just a week before the Games began.
Despite the delays, the organisers claim they did not exceed the budget. The state spent approximately Rs 611 crore on the Games, with around Rs 390 crore spent just on infrastructure. Among the new venues built are the two shooting ranges in Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur, a synthetic turf stadium for hockey in Kollam, a tennis complex and a squash centre in the capital, and an indoor stadium in Kannur. However, the showpiece arena will be the Greenfield stadium in Kariyavattom, built at a cost of Rs 161 crore.
Big guns, no show
Almost all top Indian athletes have skipped the event mainly since it clashes with some crucial international events or their off-season training. Saina Nehwal, Mary Kom, Sushil Kumar, Yogeshwar Dutt, Gagan Narang, Jitu Rai have all skipped the event. All the top men and women hockey players too will not be participating whereas boxers have been asked to stay away from the Games owing to Boxing India’s internal wrangling with the IOA.
Despite the stars pulling out, the organisers say Kerala 2015 will see record participation. An estimated 11,641 participants, including 7,744 athletes from 36 units, including the newly carved out state of Telangana, will look to fight it out in 31 disciplines across 29 venues, some brand new and others decently refurbished. A total of 1,369 medals (414 gold, 414 silver, and 541 bronze) are on offer, with aquatics, athletics and shooting being the biggest events.
In the previous edition held in Jharkand, Services emerged the best with a tally of 70 gold, 50 silver and 42 bronze medals. Manipur, who won the best state award, came second with a total of 118 medals (48 gold, 37 silver and 33 bronze), followed by Haryana and Maharashtra with 115 (42 gold, 33 silver and 40 bronze) and 132 medals (41 gold, 44 silver and 47 bronze), respectively.
Services favourites again
Services and Manipur are likely to dominate once again but expect the host state to throw a decent challenge. Kerala have named a 744-member contingent (391 men and 353 women) that will be led by Asian Games medallist Preeja Sreedharan. Kerala have strong athletics and badminton teams and will fancy their chances to climb up the ladder from the poor seventh position they achieved in Ranchi.