Apheel Johnson's death: A tragic eye-opener

Apheel Johnson, a student volunteer at Kerala State Junior Athletics Championship, died from injuries sustained after being hit on the head by iron ball.

Seventeen-year-old Apheel Johnson (in picture) was a student volunteer at the Kerala State Athletics Championship.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Seventeen is no age to die. Thoughtlessness on a sporting field should never be cause enough for death.

The death of Apheel Johnson, from the injuries he sustained after being hit on the head by an iron ball during a hammer throw event at the Kerala State Junior Athletics Championship earlier this month at Pala, is not just tragic. It is also a moment for the organisers of a state which has produced some of the biggest names in Indian sport, to introspect.

The terrible death of the youngster could have been avoidable, if basic precaution had been taken. As a volunteer -- Apheel was retrieving the javelin while the hammer throw competition is being held on an adjacent field.

Read: Indians disappoint at World Championships in lead up to Tokyo 2020

“How could you conduct both these throw events, which can cause grievous injuries if precautions are not taken, at the same time on the same ground?” wonders P.T. Usha, India's most successful track-and-field athlete. “What was the need for the meet to be conducted in such a hurry? Just because you want to hold a championship within fewer days than required, you cannot make compromise on safety.”

Usha wasn't there at Pala when the incident happened. But, some of the athletes she trains, at the Usha School of Athletics, were present.

“I was in Ranchi at that time with my senior wards for the National Open Athletics Championship, but I was shocked when my girls told me about the incident,” she says. “This ought to be a lesson for all those who conduct sports meets."

Usha says the approach of some organisers are too lackadaisical. “They don't try to get the best possible ground to conduct a meet; they just go for the easiest option,” she says. “They don't even look at the calendar of their particular sport, when they announce the dates of a certain championship, forcing an athlete to skip some meet.”