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Vol. XXXIII No. 20, February 1-15, 2024
The Central Government launched Khelo India, a special programme that aims to inspire the nation’s youth to play and excel at sports. The inaugural 2018 edition was the Khelo India School games, targeted at enticing children to regularly take part in sporting activities. This year, the sixth edition was allotted to Tamil Nadu, a State that arguably leads the country in sports development given the extraordinary sporting talent it has consistently been producing since Independence. The State Government agreed to host the 2024 Khelo India Youth Games from January 19 to 31. It was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and TN Chief Minister M.K. Stalin in Chennai, in the presence of the State’s sporting fraternity and participating sportspersons.
Apart from Chennai city, competitions were also held in Madurai, Tiruchirappalli and Coimbatore. Conducted under the auspices of the Union Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, the TN edition of the Games was held in team championship format with the medals won by individual athletes or teams making up the overall medals count of a State or Union Territory. 5,600 athletes from all 36 states vied for 933 medals – 278 Gold, 278 silver and 377 bronze – across 26 sports. The State or Union Territory with the most number of Gold medals was declared the winner, and this year, it was three-time winner and defending champion Maharashtra that walked off with the honours. In a first, Squash was included in the program and Silambam, an indigenous martial art, was featured as a demonstration sport.
Expectedly, host Tamil Nadu – who fielded the largest contingent of 559 athletes – took on with aplomb the reigning champion Maharashtra as well as other strong rivals like Haryana, Telangana, Punjab, Delhi, Rajasthan, Kerala and Karnataka. TN sportsmen and sportswomen enabled the State to top the game charts on the first three days of the competitions, winning the Gold in Shooting, Athletics, Squash, Volleyball, Basketball, Cycling, Yoga, and Fencing. TN slipped to the second position behind Maharashtra on the fourth day of the Games. Ahead of her participation in the Asian Cadet meet in February at Manama in Bahrain, girl fencer A.V. Arlin shot to fame on the opening day winning the Sabre event Gold against Lakshya Badger of Haryana. Punjab also set off on a rousing start when they bagged four Gold medals in Gatka sport, individual and team competitions.
Tamil Nadu’s 12-year-old 50m air rifle shooter S.M. Yugan emerged as the youngest athlete in this edition of Khelo India Games to win a Gold medal. The State’s Squash and Basketball Boys and Girls teams too emerged as Gold medal winners; the TN Volleyball Boys team claimed the Gold against Haryana, while the TN Volleyball Girls team won Bronze; in Squash, R. Pooja hogged the limelight by winning the Gold against Maharashtra’s Nirupama Dubey, seeded number two in this event. TN also won the Gold in weightlifting, thanks to fine performances by both boys and girl lifters.
After the first nine days of the Games, Tamil Nadu and Haryana were fighting to retain the second position in the medal tally with 29 Gold medals each. TN had 18 Silver and 30 Bronze to Haryana’s 16 Silver and 39 Bronze at this juncture. According to Tamil Nadu’s chef de mission J. Mercy Regina, a former volleyball player and the current head of Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDATN), TN has achieved its goal of finishing in the top three positions. This was made possible due to a larger squad compared to the previous five editions of the Khelo Games, where there was a restriction on the number of players a State could field, based on national rankings. Ms Regina added that TN’s commendable show was made possible by its rich talents in athletics, swimming, weightlifting and fencing and that the State Goverment’s concentrated efforts to identify and nurture sporting talent was evident in the results.