In the middle of nowhere, Saifai attempts to emerge as a major sporting hub

In the middle of nowhere, Saifai attempts to emerge as a major sporting hub

In the middle of nowhere, Saifai attempts to emerge as a major sporting hub

The road from Etawah to Saifai is witness to the transformation of the erstwhile nondescript village into a centre for large-scale infrastructure development, the 20km distance easily traversed in 15 minutes.

The birthplace of Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav is in the process of establishing itself as a sports and education hub in the State — an international cricket stadium with a capacity of 50,000 is coming up while an all-weather swimming pool along with a separate diving area is already operational.

The Chandgiram Sports Complex that hosted this year’s National men’s hockey championships has hostel facilities for wrestling and hockey.

There is already a sports college and a sports university is in the making, besides a 300-bed hostel, a 50-room guest house and a second astro-turf about to be laid.

The medical institute has been accorded university status and has several undergraduate colleges and a post-graduate college as well.
Sparse attendance

The only thing missing, in fact, is an audience. In a place with an official population of 7,500 (Census 2011), the huge buildings with modern facilities stand out like alien, futuristic wonders, self-contained but with little connect to the locals.

The National championships (B and A division) held here had only the officials as spectators. The locals unaware and the teams desperate to get it over and leave. “What to do, there is nothing in and around here. Stadium and room. There is no third place. And barring our laptops and phones, nothing in the rooms either. It isn’t easy to survive 15 days,” a senior player said and was corroborated by several others.

Some of the biggest names in Indian hockey turned out to play for their respective States or institutions during the competition.

It doesn’t take long to tour the place and the more one travels, the more the disconnect becomes evident. The colleges are state of the art but the city struggles for basics.

There is continuous power supply but not many can afford the devices to take advantage of it.

There is a four-lane highway connecting Etawah but few cars zipping across it.

The sports facilities are mainly used by the residential trainees from across the State. The most luxurious accommodation, used by VVIPs on their visit here, is incongruously called the ‘White House’.
Strangeness

Even the officials admit the strangeness of all this development in the middle of nowhere. Asked if there was anything besides the huge hospital — which gets patients from across States and is supposed to provide treatment for even the most serious ailments for a nominal rate of Re. 1 — colleges and stadiums in Saifai, pat came the reply, “the village”. Nothing else.

The teams for the Nationals, barring Air India and CAG, were put up at various hostels across the city with basic facilities. The two teams decided to spend on accommodation in Etawah instead.

“Imagine in this weather, the hostel rooms did not have air coolers, forget ACs.

“The teams that could afford to stay away, did,” said a senior Air India player.

Another player, who is also a National camper, said some of the players from across teams decided to stay in hotels in Etawah away from the rest of their teammates with permission.

“It wasn’t easy but we managed. The managers also allowed given the conditions. It happened in several teams,” the player added.

CAG paid the price for it. “The team was stuck in traffic and just about managed to make it to the venue for the tournament opener against Railways. They literally had to run out on to the pitch and lost badly (6-0) despite being a good team,” a CAG official admitted. That defeat eventually pushed CAG out of the knockouts while Railways went on to make the final.
Other issues

There were other issues. The turf that saw 100 matches played over a month has worn out and is set to be replaced.

The soaring temperature through the day meant matches were played as early as 6 a.m., which wasn’t exactly comfortable. Even the final of the competition was held at 8 a.m.

“If the teams agree, we are ok with any time for the matches. It isn’t easy playing in the afternoon, the temperature touches 43-44 degrees. Early morning means the weather will be cooler and the finalists can also leave early for their homes,” the UP sports director R.P. Singh explained.

He has a point. To their credit, the organisers consulted the coaches and managers of all teams before finalising the revised schedule.

The National championships are also expected to be the hunting ground for scouts and selectors in search of new talent. R.P. Singh, a National selector, has been doubling up for that duty as well. Syed Ali was the lone selector present during the B Division games.

To be fair, the organisers tried their best, planning and executing the logistics of hosting a month long event with over 700 players and officials. But, in the middle of nowhere, it just doesn’t seem enough.

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