Ace paddler A Sharath Kamal, who has brought laurels to the country by winning three table tennis gold medals at the Commonwealth Games, called the living conditions at the National Institute of Sports "very unhygienic and unacceptable" for any athlete representing India.
"Playing conditions are okay but staying in NIS is a nightmare. I don't have to be in Patiala for long as I am in Germany for major part of the year but I feel bad for other athletes who live here for a long time," Kamal said on July 16 before boarding his flight to Glasgow for the July 23-August 3 Games. Sharath paints an unpleasant picture of the accommodation and other facilities at NIS, founded in 1961.
"The rooms are in bad shape, the common bathrooms are full of filth and the air conditioners in the room are hardly effective in this heat. We are not asking for something fancy but we need to be provided normal conditions before you expect us to be the best in our sport," said the World No.44, who trained with the rest of the squad in Patiala for two weeks ahead of the mega event. Sharath revealed that condition of the room given to him was so bad that he ended up sleeping in the dedicated apartment of foreign coach Peter Engel.
"Thankfully, our coach was happy to help," quipped the double gold-medallist of the 2006 Melbourne Games. A foreign coach stationed at India's sports hub, requesting anonymity, said "if NIS is seen as country's top sports institute then god save Indian sport." SS Roy, regional director at NIS, admitted that part of the athletes accommodation was old and needed renovation. A new hostel block in the campus is expected to be functional by the first week of August, said Roy.
"The Dhyan Chand block was built in the 1980s and it surely needs to be refurbished. The work has already started and we have decided to do away with common bathrooms and construct attached bathrooms in the 350 odd rooms there. The work should be complete in six months," said Roy.
"As far as the food is concerned, we have called a chef from the Oberoi group of hotels. We hope the players find the food better when they are back from the Commonwealth Games," Roy added.
The foreign coach, meanwhile, went on to say that he could never think of inviting athletes of other countries to Patiala in the current scenario. "They will not cope up with the drastic drop in their lifestyle. It is so unhygienic there. I see the money being spent here but I get a feeling that it is not used properly. Else the state of NIS would have been better.
"I hope things improve sooner than later," added the coach, who is contemplating going back at the end of his contract which is till the Asian Games in September. 2006 Commonwealth Games gold-medallist boxer Akhil Kumar said the pace of revamp is rather slow. "Improvement is there but it is slow. I have been staying in Patiala since 2001 and let me safely say that I have seen worse days," said Akhil, who missed the bus for CWG and is currently eyeing an Asian Games berth in the 60kg category.