Vivek Kumar is emphatic on the point of why he named the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence so. The remarkable 15-acre sporting facility he has set up on Bengaluru's outskirts is his tribute, he says, to two of the country's greatest athletes.
“I've known Prakash (Padukone) for a very, very long time; he is a special sportsperson, a special human being. Rahul (Dravid) is my junior from St. Joseph's College of Commerce. We knew each other. I wanted both of them to have a special role to play in this facility.
"When it came to a possible dedication, I asked them. Both of them instantly told me, 'I would not have wanted to combine my name with anyone except the person you've chosen.' It's a complete dedication in honour of what they've done for the country,” says Vivek.
Formally inaugurated in December, the Centre for Sports Excellence (CSE) is perhaps the only private venture of its kind in India. Located north of the city, some 20 minutes from the airport, the campus contains a full-sized football pitch, a 10-lane Olympic-sized swimming pool, 16 badminton courts, squash, tennis and basketball courts, a cricket ground, indoor and outdoor nets, and a state-of-the-art sports science centre.
But as important as the infrastructure is what is done with it. The Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy (PPBA) has now moved into the CSE, as has Dolphin Aquatics, run by the veteran swimming coach Nihar Ameen.
The football field, which was opened a year ago, is used by multiple academies and has hosted the National U-13 Youth League. Then there is the Sports Authority of India - Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance Centre, a top-of-the-line rehabilitation, fitness and sports science facility which boasts a cryotherapy chamber among other things.
The CSE has given that space rent-free to the Abhinav Bindra Foundation Trust for 10 years, with chosen SAI athletes allowed to use services free of cost.
“We have many dedicated coaches who don't have the infrastructure to back them,” notes Vivek. “For example, the PPBA used to use five courts between 10 and 5 (on its old premises at the KBA). I'm sure we could have produced more champions if we had the courts from 6 am to 10 pm. Why does Nihar Ameen have to struggle for a swimming pool? I have built this place not only for the players but also the coaches.”
The CSE will function as an amalgam of a high-performance centre that produces professional sportsmen and a club for recreational athletes. “If you work only towards excellence, without huge corporate backing, you cannot run this,” feels Vivek.
“The centre of excellence is one vertical, where we will be giving academies the timings they want. We can also run it like a sports club. There will not be a clash between members and academies.”
A former three-time State men's badminton champion, Vivek had co-founded the PPBA nearly 25 years ago. In 2009, he sold his company, Trident Powercraft, which manufactured alternators and promised himself he'd invest the proceeds in sports. “Of course it's become much larger than I'd imagined when I first set out to do this,” he smiles.
“In India, people are willing to spend money on buying teams in leagues but the basic start is good infrastructure. We don't have that."
For a few years, Vivek made it a point to visit sporting facilities on his travels. He went to the Thanyapura sports resort in Phuket to observe its swimming set-up. Trips to the Ajax and PSV Eindhoven football academies in the Netherlands inspired him to incorporate an athletic-skill-training-track in his own facility.
Eventually, he roped in Myrtha, an Italian company that has built swimming pools for the Olympic Games and the World Championships, to install his own pool.
Padukone and Dravid, friends of Vivek's, then joined the CSE as co-chairmen of the board of advisors. “Prakash is going to have a bigger role in the running because he is involved with his academy,” he says.
“We're going to take Rahul's advice constantly on how to run different programmes for children, and how to make things more interesting for them. He always has some brilliant ideas.”
The cost of the project has crossed Rs. 50 crore and Vivek admits it is going to be a long haul in terms of breaking even. “It is going to depend on recreational use and how the club membership works,” he says. “This part of the city is close to Yelahanka and it is developing. I'm convinced this will be a fairly decent business model.”
For now, though, Vivek and his wife, Shama Kittur – a sports nutritionist and a former National badminton player – are happy merely watching children play untroubled. “For us – and even Rahul says this when he comes here – it's just the joy of seeing kids play in an environment where they're not disturbed. And if this can facilitate more medals for our country, we'll feel we contributed in some small way.”
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