Former India sprinter Ashwini Nachappa slammed Indian Super League side Bengaluru FC for treating athletes at the Sree Kanteerava stadium like criminals since shifting their home base to the arena in 2015.
Nachappa, an Arjuna awardee, is among the athletes who had filed a PIL to reclaim the Sree Kanteerava stadium solely for athletics after Bengaluru FC were given permission to host their home matches at the ground.
With the court currently enquiring the matter in which Bengaluru FC were allowed to host matches at the stadium, the club have enlisted Pune’s Balewadi stadium as a venue to host its home matches for the upcoming season. The move was made in case the court rules against them using the facility.
Bengaluru FC have received widespread support on social media with famous personalities including former tennis player Mahesh Bhupati and Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya tweeting in support of keepingthe club in the city for the upcoming season and beyond.
While the club continues to find ways to solve the dispute, Nachappa has claimed that the athletes have been made to suffer at the Kanteerava stadium since Bengaluru’s arrival.
“They [Bengaluru FC] have treated athletes [at Kanteerava stadium] like criminals,” Nachappa told Scroll.in.
“They completely cordoned off athletics from the stadium. They have set up barricades around the pitch and have private security guards at all four ends of the track so that we don’t even touch the grass. They warned coaches if they tried to move the barricades, they would be arrested. This is a ridiculous way to treat fellow sportspersons,” she added.
Nachappa also alleged that the synthetic track around the pitch was damaged due to the footballers running on it with their shoes on.
Nachappa also explained why athletes need to train on the grass at the Sree Kanteerava stadium as continuous training on the synthetic tracks leads to injuries to the athletes.
“One has to understand that we or any athlete in the world cannot do related exercises such as bounding, fitness on the synthetic track as it causes injuries. All athletes use other surfaces to train. It became impossible for shot-putters and discus throwers to practice with the grass surface barricaded,” she said.
The former sprinter also alleged that the grass pitch of the stadium remained unavailable to the athletes even during the non-football season as Bengaluru FC continued to barricade the area.
“They have spent a certain amount of money on maintaining the grass, so they didn’t want anyone to use it. Government infrastructure is for the public, and everyone has a right to use it. Students from schools and colleges train here and some have been manhandled by the guards there. This is not acceptable,” she added.
During the season, the advertising boards surrounding the football pitch encroached the synthetic tracks leaving the athletes with virtually no room to train.
“The stadium can host international events in athletics. That’s why we have a warm-up track. But if you go and have a look at it, it is completely occupied. There’s no room for athletics. Will it be allowed at a cricket or a hockey stadium? Then why at an athletics venue,” the 51-year-old questioned.
Responding to statements made by JSW Sports’ Parth Jindal and Bengaluru FC, claiming they do not wish to hamper the athletes at the Kanteerava stadium in any manner, Nachappa claimed that her attempts to establish contact with JSW over the matter have been fruitless thus far.
“I have nothing personal against Bengaluru FC or JSW Sports. In fact, I was trying to get in touch with their CEO to work out a settlement but there was no end to this. We knocked all the doors, but nothing helped. In the end, we had to go to court. I hope it didn’t come to this, but we had no choice,” she said.
On being asked about the possibility of co-existing in the space in the future, Nachappa cited past harmony that has always been prevalent between sportsmen of various disciplines at the Kanteerava, something which she felt ended with Bengaluru’s arrival.
“They can host the big matches here; I have no problem. It has always happened at the Kanteerava in the past. Before the stadium, there was a velodrome here and cyclists, athletes, footballers all used the facility with great harmony. After Bengaluru FC came here, it has all changed,” she claimed.
Nachappa also called the All Indian Football Federation to invest in building a new stadium for football in the city to ensure the sport keeps growing in the city.
“All over the world, football clubs have their own stadiums. If it’s such a popular and growing sport, why doesn’t the federation invest and build a stadium here,” the former India sprinter asked.
With Bengaluru FC’s popularity in the city, the public sentiment, at least on social media doesn’t seem to be in the favour of the athletes. Nachappa though is choosing to keep faith in the judiciary.
“I have seen posts on Twitter where I’m being portrayed as a villain, but the fact is that Bengaluru FC have been highly insensitive towards the athletes. Athletes of 44 disciplines have been affected, no one is looking at their suffering for the last five years. People who don’t understand sports are commenting. However, we believe the court will stand by us,” Nachappa said.