Goa is scheduled to host the 37th National Games in Goa from October 25 to November 9 and with just about two months left, financial aid is yet to be disbursed to state associations to get their players ready.
Training aside, the government, in an attempt to salvage some pride, is trying to push associations to get players from outside to represent us with the hope of finishing with dignity.
The secretary of the Goa Badminton Association (GBA) wrote to the executive director of the Sports Authority of Goa (SAG) on August 1, 2023, “seeking clarification regarding the matter pertaining to the participation of outstation trainers who have been enrolled at the Khelo India Centres of Excellence located in Campal.”
SAG executive director Geeta Nagvenkar replied to GBA the next day – August 2, 2023 – and it ends with the last line handwritten, which reads: “This letter is issued with the approval of government.”
The last handwritten sentence simply indicates that a cabinet meeting was held either on August 1 or 2, 2023, and that a policy was framed in the meeting that was elucidated in the letter sent by Geeta to GBA.
Had there been no cabinet meeting, the last handwritten line was just an attempt to bulldoze through players from Khelo India, and, in the bargain, make a mockery of local talent.
Khelo India, like most government projects, was started with good intent, but the debate whether the steam will last until the 2024 Olympics has already started, and five fingers are now pointing at the centre in Campal.
The Khelo India Centre in Campal is designed to groom talent in swimming, table tennis and badminton, and from the three, the swimming federation has made it clear that no outstation participant will represent Goa during the National Games.
GBA has no problem in accommodating outstation players in some categories, only for the National Games, but is opposed to anything beyond that.
Parents complained, but the noise was not loud enough because Goan shuttlers proved to be better than many players from the Khelo India Centre in Campal.
Of 24 players in TT, 21 are from outside. The possibility of Goan players getting a chance is as good as negligible, and TT Goa is far from happy. The Goa Table Tennis Association (GTTA) is an autonomous body but gets beefed with financial support from SAG. Therefore, it is not in a position to flex much muscle.
However, they do not appear ready to give up before placing what they think are their legitimate demands. Their first full toss to Khelo India will be to accommodate a few outsiders and in return expect them to be more locally friendly during their next selection.
Table tennis in India has suffered in the past when the Petroleum Sports Board started an academy in Ajmer many years ago, and later, Haryana tweaked domicile rules to accommodate players from Bengal.
In both instances, local talent just disappeared, and the two states are still in the process of rebuilding their foundation. The fear is that the same may happen in Goa if Khelo India is allowed to import top-ranked players from other states.
Khelo India in Goa should primarily be for players from Goa and should be Goa-friendly. Before the start, parents were informed that they would be able to meet their wards only once a month. The same rule is not applied now to children coming from other states. Such discrimination must stop.
Information accessed from other Khelo India Centres across the country indicates that most allow children from other states to practice and compete, but they are not allowed to represent that state.
Representing a state at the national level has a lot of benefits and most are linked to job opportunities. Hence the rush to get into the bus. Khelo India was established to prepare athletes for the Olympics, but for many – employees and athletes – the centre in Campal is turning out into their first home.
Goa has the best education, the best in everything athletes and employees of the centre would need. This is one reason why High Performance Director Sumith Rajeshwari must tread cautiously, because taking Goa for granted will not get him anywhere.