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Samaritan of sports

Former national weightlifting champion C.B.R. Prasad's dream is to churn out Olympic medallists from his sports academy

Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

AT A State athletic meet in Guntur recently, a concerned citizen came forward to foot the entire bill for issuing laminated identity cards for athletes, which would display his/her photograph, list name, district and most importantly, the date of birth. While the step didn't go down too well with many, it aimed at streamlining the participation process, restricting it to bonafide athletes and preventing over-aged participants from taking part in lower age groups.

Facing the wrath of quite a few officials was C.B.R. Prasad, a 1968 North India middleweight weightlifting champion. "State sports schools fudge ages of inmates to show good results," he says of a malaise that thrives, thanks to official connivance. He should know, since he has traversed the length and breadth of Andhra Pradesh and the country over the last three years, attending athletic and weightlifting meets.

His experiences have firmed up beliefs that sports should be privatised totally, State support should only be monetary and any kind of sponsorship should reach the recipient directly, not through officialdom, which he shuns. Tenure of office-bearers of sports associations, should not exceed two years, he feels. "If they are so committed to sports, they can support it from outside after that," he suggests.

Putting precept into practice, he has distributed medals, sports gear in the form of tracksuits, shorts and vests, besides providing stipends to young and talented sportspersons.

At the Indira Gandhi Municipal Corporation stadium in Vijayawada, he supports the stay and upkeep of eight promising girl weightlifters in the 14 to 20 years age group. To fulfil his dream of producing an Olympic medallist in 15 years, and an Asian medallist in 10, he has set up a facility on his 40-acre farm at Ketanakonda in Ibrahimpatnam mandal of Krishna district. "The idea is to let them develop skills side by side, to make a livelihood outside sports," he says.

Often promising youngsters, who are inmates of various sports hostels, are left to fend for themselves after about the intermediate level. From the security of hostels, they are pitch forked into society, without being properly equipped to face it or having had enough opportunity to inherit the expertise from avocations of their parents.

His hope is that inmates of his proposed academy will be able to stand on their own feet when they leave. For now, he is on the lookout for talented athletes, weightlifters and kabaddi players, preferably participants at the junior national level. Through his good offices, he persuaded M/s Suguna Hatcheries to support a promising weightlifter and a girl athlete with a monthly stipend of Rs. 1,500 each.

Such support from business/corporate houses will help nurture talent. Most sportspersons lack true commitment and are in it for the money, jobs and seats in professional courses/colleges, he feels, harking back to his days when none of these incentives came their way. To him, sincerity is a must for every sportsman and declaring his/her age is the first step in integrity.

"We were inspired by the stalwart K. Easwar Rao, Arjuna Awardee and double Olympian," recounts Prasad of Bhatlapenumarru, in Movva mandal of Krishna district, of which Rao is a native too. "In preparation for the Rome Olympics, the ace weightlifter was giving a demonstration in our village to raise money for himself and that attracted me to the sport. We were poor, so I pursued the sport after I joined the Indian Air Force," Prasad reminisces.

It was an era when Easwar Rao told them the legend of Abraham S., who could lift weight quicker than the fastest sprinter could run. At the 1948 Olympic Games, officials were so enamoured by Abraham's speed that they failed to detect he had fouled his winning lift. At the podium, when the medal was to be awarded, Abraham stepped down, handed over the gold to the second-placed lifter and declared he had erred. The next day, photographs of Abraham were selling at five pounds each!

After a promise of a better job was reneged, Prasad went into the poultry business. "I had a wife to support and it was a question of survival," he says of having to give up his passion. As if to make up for that loss, most of his earnings from rents he spends on sports and sportspersons. "Each village should contribute Rs. 5 each to two boys and two girls everyday. That will take care of their dietary requirements," he says of his dream for a proliferation of sportspersons.

"So many schools have done away with the sports period. In its place, how about at least 15 minutes of jogging," he asks. The crest of Prasad's C.B.R. Academy is symbolic of a chick stepping out of its shell. May his scheme see medallists emerge soon.

A. JOSEPH ANTONY

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