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Athletics is another sport in Goa that is crying for financial assistance and despite the handicap, the Goa Athletic Association (GAA) is confident about getting some athletes on the podium during the 36th National Games, writes SUSHANT CHIMULKAR of THE NAVHIND TIMES

Athletics is one of the 37 sports disciplines that features in the National Games 2020, and like every other association, the Goa Athletic Association (GAA) is expected to be gearing up for the mega event.

“Not really,” says secretary of AAG, Paresh Kamat, as he explains, “It’s only after the launch of the mascot that it’s now confirmed that Goa will host the 36th National Games. Otherwise, there had been all kinds of uncertainties and speculations making the rounds whether Goa will organise the Games
or not.” 

“Nevertheless, our athletes have been practising regularly and are striving hard to give their best,”
he adds.

How many medals does the GAA secretary expect his athletes to win for the state in track and field events? “I wouldn’t like to be boastful and say something like 10-15 medals. The competition in the National Games is going to be really tough as a large number of highly talented athletes from big states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Gujarat, etc are going to take part. Goa is like one small district of these States, so the Goan athletes will have to be at their very best if they fancy any chance of coming good against their tough competitors. I would be happy and satisfied even if our athletes win say about three to four medals,” says Kamat, a former national bronze medalist, who has been a GAA secretary for the last six years and the one who is associated with GAA in various capacities for the last 12 years.

On his assessment of Goan athletes and their standing at the national level, Kamat says, “At the junior level, we are quite good as far as West Zone is concerned. We won some 27 medals, including five gold, in the last West Zone Championship. Our athlete from the South, Rizma Fernandes won a double gold following which she was selected for the National Camp at Bhopal.

“At the national level, we are far behind big states like Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, etc. Our population is too less compared to them. In the last West Zone Championship, Maharashtra fielded about 210 athletes whereas Goa had only 65. Moreover, those states encourage their athletes in a big way. A national gold medallist in those states gets a cash prize of `5 lakh. There the athletes are looked after well. In Goa, there is hardly any encouragement from the government or any corporate houses. The situation here is such that even for sending our teams for various national championships, we have to shell out money from our pockets. For every championship that Goa participates, we spend in lakhs. For a contingent of about 65-70 athletes, it takes a lot of money to arrange for their kits, TA, DA, tickets and other expenses. Sadly, the SAG, of late, has become very dormant as far as providing funds is concerned, due to which it becomes very difficult for the association to manage its yearly programmes,” he says. 

Being an athlete himself, Kamat says he knows very well how expensive it is for an athlete to maintain his/her diet. “Unlike some light games which primarily need mental fitness, athletics needs both mental as well as physical fitness. Athletics is a hard game and one has to have a proper diet to perform consistently. Being an athlete myself, I know how much it costs to maintain a good and balanced diet.”

“At national camp, an amount of `1,250 is spent on every athlete per day. So it wouldn’t be easy for the athletes and their families to manage such expenses. So if the government or any corporate houses help them financially, it would do a world of good to the athletes as it can always motivate them to strive hard and enhance their performance.”

“Athletics, in Goa, is not as popular as say football or cricket. There are hardly any sponsors who support our athletes. So in the absence of proper facilities, they somehow struggle to give their best as compared to the athletes from other states,” he shares.

About the popularity of athletics in Goa, Kamat says, “There is no dearth of talent in Goa as many young children mostly from the villages are willing to take the sport. Its popularity can be gauged from the fact that around 1782 athletes participated in the recently held State Meet.

About the activities that the GAA conducts to promote athletics in the state, he says: “We send our teams for various national championships by arranging the necessary funds. Before every national championship, we hold a camp for about 20 days. We hold a talent hunt programme every year. Besides, we also hold our annual State Meet. To hold a State Meet it costs around `7-8 lakh and the SAG grants us only `2 lakh. But we somehow manage to raise the remaining funds. We even provide accommodation and food to the athletes who come to participate in the State Meet from remote places like Canacona and other faraway places. The GAA is lucky to have a president in Narendra Sawaikar, who is very cooperative and the one who extends his support in every possible way.”

Kamat has high praise for the Athletics Federation of India, about which he says, “Athletics Federation of India is the best federation in the country. It hardly gets itself embroiled in any controversy.”

“The federation may not help us financially, but they support us in many other ways. They have recently provided laptops to the secretaries of all the state athletics associations. They have now decided to sponsor one district of Goa and have also asked us to look for a rented office where they will employ a staff whose salary will be paid by them.”

Speaking about the future for the athletes, he laments that the government is not doing anything substantial for them. “In other states, there is a special sports quota where the sportspersons are employed once they retire. But in Goa, there is absolutely no such thing like a sports quota. And that is the reason why many talented athletes quit the sport abruptly. As youngsters, they continue as long as they enjoy the sport, but once they reach the age of 15-16 they tend to ponder on their future and decide to concentrate on their academics or any other profession,”
he says.

“Just to elaborate my point, there’s been a post vacant for an athletics coach in SAG for last many years, but they have not filled it yet. Our association has few experienced coaches, so if the government decides to fill that post, one of our guys will get a job. The SAG, on the other hand, will also have an additional athletics coach, but sadly no one seems to be interested in doing
the needful.

“We are confident about improving the standard of Goan athletics. We have already started working on the roadmap ahead. In athletics, it takes time for results to come, and we are confident and equally hopeful that athletics in Goa will attain great heights in the near future,” he signs off.

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