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Vol. XXVI No. 17, December 16-31, 2016

Sports-loving Jayalalithaa remembered

by Partab Ramchand

She gave Madras its stadiums

The phrase “Sports loving Chief Minister’’ was certainly a more apt description of the late Chief Minister, J. Jayalalithaa. The flawless conduct of the South Asian Federation games in Madras in December 1995 was the crowning sporting glory of her contribution to Sports in Tamil Nadu, but there were several other gestures that signified her love for sport and sportspersons.

15octthaxl05_nu_th_1619805eSDAT Tennis Stadium in Nungambakkam

Jayalalithaa was interested in sport right from her school days and spoke of her teenage crush in the early 1960s for cricketers Nari Contractor and MAK Pataudi. She also confessed that she used to go to watch Test matches because of them. She was also keen on playing badminton.

When she became Chief Minister for the first time in 1991, she took little time in displaying her in sport. C.R. Viswanathan, then the Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Football Association, was keen on bringing the Nehru Cup international football tournament to Chennai, but for this a stadium of international standard was required. He approached Jayalalithaa with a plan to convert the old Nehru stadium into a brand new sparkling ultra-modern facility. The Chief Minister wasted no time in giving her approval and the result was that in January 1993 the competition was conducted successfully and the city acquired a facility that was acknowledged to be arguably the best in the country also doubling up as a track and field venue.

nehru-stadiumNehru Stadium

With the city now boasting of an international level stadium, the next step was to conduct several such facilities that would serve various other sports and so the seed for the successful conduct of the SAF Games was sown. Over the next couple of years, the city’s sporting ethos went through a metamorphosis as one by one international stadia were constructed. Hitherto Madras had remained a back-bencher when it came to conducting international sporting events thanks to lack of proper infrastructure. This meant that Madras lost out in its bid to conduct major competitions not only to cities like Bombay, Calcutta or New Delhi but also to smaller places like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Ahmadabad.

By the end of 1995, Madras was ready to play host to the SAF Games, the biggest international sporting event held in the city, and much of the credit was given to Jayalalithaa for taking the initiative to construct the various facilities that marked a turning point in the sporting ethos of the southern metropolis, putting Madras firmly on the international sporting map. The Mayor Radhakrishnan hockey stadium in Egmore underwent a major change. A new astro-turf was laid, bigger stands were built and players’ amenities were improved and the venue was fit enough not only to host the prestigious hockey event of the SAF Games but also the Champions Cup hockey tournament the following year. An indoor stadium close to the Nehru Stadium was the venue for the volleyball, basketball, badminton and table tennis events and the Velachery aquatic complex was home to all the water sports contests. Among the other stadiums, the SDAT tennis stadium in Nungambakkam, which hosted the tennis event of the SAF Games, has been the official venue for the Chennai Open ever since. And in keeping with the improved facilities the setting up of the Indian Squash Academy a few years ago, has further raised the sporting standards of the city. Thanks to her foresight, Chennai is now capable of holding almost any international meet at short notice.

But while the successful conduct of the SAF Games and the construction of various international level facilities will remain the best known of her “sporting achievements’’, Jayalalithaa promoted sports and encouraged sportspersons in various other ways too. She saw to it that the sports allocation in the State budget always received a fillip. The number of sports hostels were increased and located in all districts. She hiked the daily food allowances of the sports hostel students and increased the prize money for sports personalities from the State who did well in national and international meets. Only recently the State government announced Rs 2 crore award for Paralympic gold medallist T. Mariyappan. A similar amount being given to Viswanathan Anand on his winning the world chess title in 2012.

When Chennai was being mentioned as a possible venue for the World Chess Championship match between Anand and Magnus Carlson in November 2013, Jayalalithaa took a personal interest in getting the event to be played in the city. She allocated Rs 29 crore while seeing to it that it was conducted in right royal style, fully aware of the magnitude of such an event. She announced rewards and scholarships for various sports and made sure that non-glamorous sports like weight­lifting, kabaddi, fencing, table tennis, athletics and swimming got their due in this regard.

Indeed, viewed from any angle, Jayalalithaa played a major role in the growth and development of sport in the State.

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