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Ambitious AFI looking to shake up the status quo of Indian athletics


Neeraj Chopra’s success in Tokyo 2020 led to an explosion of interest across the country in javelin throw, a sport that for many Indians for many years was one of those fringe events that happened on the sidelines of the more glamorous races on the track.

Proving that an increase in number corresponds to quality, Indian athletics now has several javelin throwers either among the world’s best or knocking the doors at the top level – across age groups. The success has also spurred the Athletics Federation of India’s (AFI) ambitions, which now plans to broad-base the entire sport across the country.

Expanding its horizons

Post the Paris Olympics, the AFI has planned to completely restructure its training and competition modules, possibly allowing more freedom and opportunities to athletes in both. This includes doing away with centralised national camps, grading the training centres and academies and increasing regional events for easy access to competitions.

“See, when you have one national camp, you can only have a maximum of 120-130 athletes, across events. But a lot of athletes say they do not wish to leave their personal coaches or training bases and come to the national camps even though they might get better facilities. We have even invited athletes to bring their own coaches to the national camp but they still don’t want to. We also know why they don’t want to come to camps. So we have decided to tell the athletes, ‘do whatever you want to, train wherever you want to, with whichever coach you want. The relay teams will be an exception since they need to train together.

THE GIST

One way the AFI is looking to revamp its operations is by streamlining and grading all the training centres in the country on the basis of the facilities available

At the same time, AFI president Adille Sumariwalla insisted, there will continue to be single training bases for specific events with dedicated coaches – both Indian and foreign – with athletes having access to them regardless of being a ‘national camper’ or not

It is also looking at spreading the competition calendar and adding more regional events to ensure more competition

“Of course, it makes keeping track of their progress and an eye on whether they stay clean more difficult. But even now, many of them are reluctant to travel and many don’t. This way we will have more training centres and be able to cater to many more athletes who wish to avail top-level facilities, we are looking at at least 650-700 athletes in the national set-up,” AFI president Adille Sumariwalla said in an exclusive interaction with The Hindu.

One way the AFI is looking to do so is by streamlining and grading all the training centres in the country on the basis of the facilities available. These will include the existing government set-ups at the various Centres of Excellence – both central and state – the privately managed ones including the likes of Army Sports Institute, the Reliance Foundation and JSW’s Inspire Institute of Sports and the likes of standalone academies like the PT Usha School or the Anju Bobby Foundation.

“We have prepared a detailed criteria of more than 30 parameters to rank the facilities from grade A to E. These include the equipment available, accommodation, coaching facilities, personnel, track, sports science facilities, recovery and rehabilitation and much more. Registering them all will help us keep track of the activities and grading them will also provide an incentive to those ranked below to improve because their funding will be directly according to their rank,” Sumariwalla explained.

At the same time, he insisted, there will continue to be single training bases for specific events with dedicated coaches – both Indian and foreign – with athletes having access to them regardless of being a ‘national camper’ or not.

“Thiruvananthapuram will remain our main centre for sprints. Bengaluru will remain the centre for middle-distance running and jumps. Patiala will continue to be the centre for throwers. Those who want to can always come and train there. I can confidently say that there is no better facility than our camps – in terms of physios, food, equipments, masseurs, everything. There will continue to be a national chief coach and a High Performance Director – for seniors and juniors – and their job will be to monitor everything, control, get feedback and help create a training microcycle. We are simply trying to spread better facilities with access to more people,” he added.

Access to better coaches

The decentralisation of training, he said, will also help more athletes access and train with the foreign coaches, both contracted with the federation and private centres. A case in point is the newly crowned 100m champion Gurindervir Singh, who is not a national camper. Gurindervir revealed after the race that he had spoken to James Hillier, athletics director of Reliance Foundation, who had invited him to train at their high performance centre in Odisha post Olympics.

Hillier, in fact, has been quite popular here – he was even seen assessing and giving tips to a local kid who approached him on the eve of the Inter-State Championships. “Just a kid, he came up and asked if I could look at him so why not?” Hillier had shrugged.

“This is the kind of thing we are looking at. Otherwise only the national campers have access to foreign coaches. Now we will have event-specific coaches based in certain centres and any athlete can approach them. The coaches will also travel to other centres regularly,” Sumariwalla said.

The only pre-condition is that every coach has to be registered with the federation – including the foreign coaches and those employed with the private academies. “Athletes always get penalised but coaches rarely do. Why should they get away? Mentioning the coach will be mandatory for every athlete at every competition, “We are giving them the freedom to train as they like. But we are also telling them, ‘we will get after you, we will be tracking you. There will be a monitoring system and as soon as we see some performance, we will do whatever we have to to ensure you are clean.

“Athletes do all sorts of things outside, which is why we put up the rule of taking only campers in national sides. They went to the Supreme Court also but it luckily ruled in our favour. Those things will continue, there will be cases in future also, we are ready for that. But the kind of drastic improvements in performances that happen are often inexplicable. I am not casting any aspersions on anyone but there is always a doubt because of previous incidents,” he admitted.

Revamping the calendar

The AFI is also looking at spreading the competition calendar and adding more regional events to ensure more competition. “We are looking at a senior and junior open championship in every state. When there is a Grand Prix in Bengaluru or Patiala, everyone has to travel there and there are only so many national events you can have. We want more local and regional level meets so players can go there and participate, get warm-up competitions before big events.

“We are also in talks with World Athletics for at least one continental tour event in India. We are also talking to various stakeholders and sponsors but we need time to work out the details – the time slot for the event, the facilities and long-term commitment from those interested to host before deciding the venue. We also have to keep in mind the best interests of our athletes – it cannot be in pre-season or in October-November, when the best talent in Asia may not be available. Let’s see.”



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