10 October 2022 06:50:19 IST

When universities are a good sport 

(clockwise from top) Neeraj Chopra, Varun Thakkar, Nandha Kumar, Ishwariya Ganesh, (inset) R Vaishali

Ishwariya Ganesh is a third-year BTech student at Vels University, Chennai, and a sailing (windsurfing) champion to boot. A bronze medalist at the Asian Olympic qualifiers, Oman 2021, she is qualified to represent India at the Asian games 2023.   

Vels is among the many universities that are supporting sportspersons actively. “Vels has helped me balance academics and sports. They make sure I don’t miss studies while juggling training and travelling for championships,” says Ganesh. The varsity provides scholarships to athletes, hence making the sports ecosystem accessible and affordable, says Abilash Rathnakaran, Director of Sports, Vels University and Vels group of Schools.  

Catch ‘em young 

Whether it is Vels, Hindustan University, M.O.P. Vaishnav College in Chennai; Lovely Professional University, Punjab; Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS) Bellary; Army Sports Institute in Pune; Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports in Patiala; Usha School of Athletics in Kozhikode; and Anju Bobby George Sports Foundation in Bengaluru, it all boils down to the quest for gold at both the national and international levels.   

The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports initiated the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) to improve the country’s performance at the Olympics and Paralympics in September 2014. This was revamped in April 2018 to establish a technical support team for managing the TOPS athletes and providing holistic support.   

Giving a helping hand to the centre’s efforts are colleges and private academies. The colleges identify potential talent at the school level and groom them to reach the next level.   

Varun Thakkar, a sailing champion, and footballer Ahmed Sahib are a couple of other prominent sportspersons from Vels. “In the Tamil Nadu team, of the 18 players, five are from our university. Similarly, four players in Kabbadi and two in the women’s football national team are from the university,” says Rathnakaran.   

Vels has a symbiotic relationship with various academies in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It provides them with equipment and jerseys or nutrition for sportspersons in camps, and they reciprocate by sending their best students to Vels for further studies, he explains.   

Talent pipeline 

Tapping talent in schools is key, even according to Prof V Kaul, Associate Director, Sports, Lovely Professional University (LPU). The results are evident as many Indian athletes such as Neeraj Chopra, Manju Rani, Parveen Hooda, Jaismine Lomboriya and the majority on the Indian national hockey team are from LPU.   

“Our outreach is very strong. Our coaches track the progress of various national players from local level matches, analyse their techniques, match readiness, weaknesses and strength. Then, they start talking to their local coaches and families before on-boarding them and preparing them to become a world-class players,” he says.   

Hindustan University in Chennai boasts of producing sportspersons such as cricketers Washington Sundar and Shahrukh Khan; Nandha kumar Sekhar in football, and women basketball players Darshani and Rajalakshmi, says Abraham Varghese, Sports Advisor. “With the hard work of our coaches and with good results, we are rated as one of the leading universities in promoting sports both in the South and all India,” he says.   

Delicate balance  

“Every year we give sports scholarships to more than 200 students across India in various sports by identifying the best talented players in almost all sports,” he elaborates.   

M.O.P. Vaishnav College’s current superstar and women chess grandmaster R Vaishali — sister of chess prodigy R Praggnanandhaa — credits her success to the support that her college gave. She represented India at the recently-held Chess Olympiad in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu.   

“I barely attend college except to write exams. But the management, teachers and my peers are very helpful during exams to help me catch up. This is a huge factor as it sets me apart from my fellow chess players,” says the 21-year-old Vaishali.   

“I am given permission to practice and participate in tournaments. I finished my BCom (CS) and have now enrolled in MA (HRM) at M.O.P. My fees have been waived as well. I keep them in the loop about my tournaments and its outcomes, and they continue to support me, through and through,” says Vaishali. The Principal and Director of Physical Education at the college are huge pillars of support, she adds.  

Interestingly, institutions such as IIT Madras are also helping other institutions in the quest for gold. Its researchers have partnered with Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS), a private training centre in Karnataka, to develop advanced boxing analytics software to increase India’s medals at the 2024 Olympics. With the emphasis universities are now putting on sport, their students are bound to come up trumps.