The organisers of the Khelo India University Games ensured that the newest addition to the Indian domestic sporting calendar was carried out without a hitch, and the athletes lauded the facilities extended to them, but at the conclusion of the multi-sports event, the question arose: What did the sportsmen and sportswomen gain by participating.
Held in sport-hungry Odisha, the Games featured 17 disciplines that were held across six venues in state capital Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. Panjab University and Pune University ended the meet with 17 gold medals each, but the former emerged champion with a total of 46 medals to the latter’s 37. Punjabi University was third on 33.
The Khelo India University Games were held much after the National University Games, which is frequented by scouts and selectors looking for fresh talent. But that wasn’t the case in Odisha, barring in the case of a handful of sports such as hockey and football.
For example, the archery results had no bearing on the participants’ chances of making it to the national camp. A senior official in the Archery Association of India said, “There is no scouting being done here. There is no shortlisting as such. Most of it happens at the Inter-University Games and during the senior nationals.”
Another case in point was weightlifting. One lifter who set a new national record said the result will have little bearing on their chances as the national camp call-ups had already been announced. “I’ll have to wait until next year to perform once again and get a national camp call-up,” the athlete said.
No monetary support
With no room for call-ups, there were also no monetary rewards either.
The Khelo India Youth Games, which sees participation in the under-21 category, identifies deserving athletes and provides them with a monthly stipend of ₹10,000 and fully covers their training costs.
But the same was not on offer for the Khelo India University Games’ participants, who had to be content with just their medals, and the Adidas kits and overalls provided to them. In fact, many had hoped that a monetary reward would be announced at the closing ceremony — which featured many of India’s top sports administrators — but that was not to be.
The timing of the meet — less than five months before the 2020 Olympic Games — led to a host of stars skipping the meet. Sprinter Jisna Mathew, who will be going to Tokyo, gave the event a miss as she was at the national camp, while swimmer Srihari Nataraj, who is 0.08 seconds off the ‘A’ qualification mark in the 100m backstroke that can assure him an Olympics berth, also skipped the event.
Swimmers rule the roost, Dutee sets university record
Olympian Dutee Chand, the only big name to participate in Odisha, achieved the sprint double as she set a new national university record on her way to the 100m gold and followed that up with victory in the 200m.
Swimmers Siddhant Sejwal of Panjab University and Pune University’s Sadhvi Dhuri were the most successful athletes at the Games with five gold medals each.
Other promising athletes included Harmilan Bains, who completed the 800m-1,500m double, while distance runner Narendra Pratap won the 5,000m and 10,000m, and weightlifter Sanket Mahadev Sargar shattered the national record in the men’s 55kg as he lifted a total of 244kg for the gold.
Sandip Pradhan, director-general of the Sports Authority of India, felt the Khelo India University Games was crucial to the country’s sporting future.
“After the Khelo Youth Games, the University Games was also in the offing. Most developed countries have a robust university system and the university champions go on to represent the nation at major sporting events like the Olympics. For the integration of sports and education, it is very important to integrate sports into the university system. It’s not that there aren’t sports at the university level, but due prominence needs to be given. That is why we started the University Games,” he said.
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The All India University Games will be combined with the Khelo India University Games from next year on, Pradhan said. “We have a plan to combine both the events next year. This time it was separate events, but next time we plan to strengthen the zonal structure of the AIU and the national championships will be the Khelo India University Games.”
Pradhan added: “This year, since the Khelo Youth Games was already announced and the University Games was conceptualised a bit later, we allowed athletes to participate in both the meets. However, we are contemplating to have two exclusive categories next year on. A decision on the same will be taken soon,” he said.
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