Olympics Begin In
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.


'Bengal is a disaster for athletics,' says Dronacharya awardee Kuntal Roy

Being an ardent observant of the sports scene in Bengal, Kuntal Roy is conscious of what is hurting the sport in the state. He pointed out the several reasons that forced the state to reel at the bottom in the national sports arena.

Bengal is a disaster for athletics, says Dronacharya awardee Kuntal Roy

Athletics coach Kuntal Roy, right, receiving the Dronacharya Award from then President of India, Pratibha Patil, in 2013.


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 12 Dec 2023 5:38 AM GMT

Kuntal Roy is an ardent athletics coach. At a time when money is the driving force for everything the world is concerned about, the 70-year-old coach has remained dedicated to his self-imposed, arduous and unglamorous teenage ambition of producing athletes from a state which hardly boasts of any infrastructure for sports.

A Dronacharya awardee, Roy started his coaching clinic, Athletic Coaching Camp, a nonprofit organisation, in Sodepur, on the fringe of Kolkata, way back in 1969.

Recently, the academy got a makeover as it became only the third facility in the state to install a synthetic track and a 5.63m elevated ramp to provide hill training facilities to the athletes. Dr. Klaus-Peter Herm, the renowned German sports scientist, inaugurated the facility.

Olympian Soma Biswas and sports scientist Dr. Klaus-Peter Herm inaugurating the synthetic track of the Athletics Coaching Camp in Sodepur, North 24 Parganas, on December 3.

During his decades-long tenure as a coach, including a stint with the Sports Authority of India (SAI) Kolkata centre, Roy produced hundreds of athletes who brought glory to the country, Bengal and the academy.

"My academy has produced 71 medals won by my athletes across all events - be it international, domestic or national events," Roy told The Bridge, sitting on the newly laid synthetic track at his academy.

He has singlehandedly shaped the careers of several top athletes, including Olympians Soma Biswas, Sushmitha Singha Roy and Saraswati Saha, and in the process, he contributed to the country. His trainees dominated the national arena. Together, they had kept Bengal in the top echelon of Indian athletics for a long while.

But gone are the days when West Bengal was a force to be reckoned with in athletics. At the recently concluded National Games, the state has reeled at the 18th spot, five spots lower than its previous year's best, with 56 medals, including seven gold.

Asked about the present affairs of athletics in the state, Roy fumed, "Bengal is a disaster for athletics, there is absolutely nothing here."

"I have my own training centre that I have been operating for the last 55 years. West Bengal was dominating the national events, specially in women’s category from 1998 to 2013. The good old days of Bengal in athletics is now over, nobody is serious about the sport here. So the result is zero," said Roy.

"Look at the recently concluded National Games, Bengal performed so poorly. It was ranked 18th. Now the situation is that if we win one medal, that is being considered a huge feat. There was a time, when Jyotirmoyee Sikdar, Soma Biswas, Sushmita Singha Roy, Sanjay Ray, Kalpana Das, Manisha Mandal and Sutapa Das dominated whole India. Bengal also won the Inter-State Athletics Championships. My trainees themselves used to win 10-12 gold medals," added the septuagenarian coach.

At the National Games in Goa earlier this year, Bengal could win only one gold in athletics by Lily Das in 1500m.

Being an ardent observant of the sports scene in Bengal, Roy is also conscious of what is hurting the sport in the state.

Cultural barrier

"There is no infrastructure, and no salubrious environment for Olympic sports. Support from the government, the association and different agencies, including corporate houses and educational instituions is missing," said the coach.

"The problem is there in talent identification too. There is no dearth of talent but the talents need to be groomed. But personally, I do not believe in talents, I believe in grooming. And Bengal is way behind its counterparts in grooming talents. We have no infrastructure, equipment, gears and proper facility to nurture the young athletes," he alleged.

He also raised a red flag to the cultural ethos and an education system that worked as a roadblock for the state's progress in sports.

"People of Bengal love sports but we do not like it. They love to watch but do not like their children to play the sports," alleged the coach.

"Basically, people here are passive consumers of sports, they are not willing to be involved in it. They love to watch it on television. People here think that children picking sports is spoiling themselves. The middle-class families think sport will spoil their children," Roy added.

Roy also expressed his disappointment with the school education system that failed to encourage children to take up sports.

"In the school, there is no environment for sports. Even if anybody goes to participate in an event, the school will issue show cause notice to him or her for being absent. To be very frank, our education system spoiling our sports environment. Those who are making the education policy did not even step into the ground in their lifetime. If the policymakers have a little bit of knowledge of sports, sports should have benefited," remarked Roy.

"Those who are making the education policy are totally against the sports," he claimed.

Harsh truth of migration of athletes

As these nuanced issues battered the sports ecosystem in Bengal, the existing talents that Bengal produced switched lineage. While migration of the state's vast workforce has been a common phenomenon, athletes have also started following the same route in search of better opportunities.

From gymnast Pranati Nayak, and cyclist Triyasha Paul to athletes Swapna Burman and Rezoana Mallick Heena, the list continues to grow as Bengali athletes switch boats.

"Bengal has so many talents, but they do not have the right platform to show their talent. Hence, the top athletes are leaving Bengal," lamented the coach.

"It has become a trend now. Most of the athletes are migrating to Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. They are getting good training facility there. These states also have government-sponsored training centres. The corporates have also built their training centres in these places. And because of these private facilities, our athletes are being lured to train there, and our athletes are agreeing to represent other states," commented Roy.

'No money at all'

"But why should not they play for these states?" asked Roy.

He cited another vital reason for the migration of athletes.

"There is no money at all for athletes. Hence they are forsaking the state, which is unwilling to look after its children," claimed Roy before asking, "How can Bengal afford these athletes when they are getting better facilities and money in neighbouring states?"

"In other states, an athlete gets a cash reward of a minimum of Rs 5 lakh for winning a medal at the National Games. And if they win an international medal, they will get more than a crore from the government. So, when you do not have any such system in place how can West Bengal be good in athletics or any other sports? Even if Bengali athletes put up good results, they do not do it for their home states, they are doing it for other states," stated Roy.

Roy also moaned about the absolute ignorance of Olympic sports by the media in the state.

"Very unfortunately, no media outlets in Bengal is concerned about this poor state of athletics in the state. No investigative stories are being done," he regretted.

Negligence of state association

Also hurting Bengal is the cold-hearted approach of the West Bengal Athletic Association (WBAA).

"In the national events, when top states send more than 100 athletes, Bengal can send only 5 to 10 athletes across 45 to 47 events. The reason? The officials of Bengal athletics will argue that they do not have money," said Roy.

"Now to reduce the number of eligible athletes, the federation here will come up with its own eligibility criteria which is much higher than the one given by the national federation. Bengal will urge athletes to achieve the mark of the Nationals' fourth or fifth-placed athletes. Now, think about it: how many athletes can achieve the mark of one who finished fifth at the national level?" he asked.

"Moreover, there is no use of electronic timer in Bengal whereas other states use it. As a result, many Bengali sprinters make it to the national level but fail to achieve their original timing," he added.

Traveling in unreserved compartments, staying in dharamshala

Roy also alleged that the association forced its athletes to travel in unserved compartments and stay in dharamshala.

"The worst thing about sports in Bengal is that athletes of our state travel in unreserved compartments. And they have to stay in mandir, gurdwara or masjid in every meet. The state association does not even have the money to make sure a safe stay for our athletes," said Roy.

"The reason for conflict with me is that I said that I would bear the expenses of qualified athletes from my academy. The association refused that too. As a result, athletes have to stay in a shabby atmosphere, where male athletes have to go through the female athletes’ room to use the washroom. And in one room, 14 to 15 athletes have to accommodate," alleged the coach.

One such incident occurred at the 18th National Youth Athletics Championships held in Udupi, Karnataka, in March this year.

"Bengal’s coaches found a temple. They managed to arrange an accommodation for athletes there. Athletes also got free food there. But when athletes were writing their names, an athlete wrote her name ‘Khatun’. The temple authority refused to let her in. She was then put into a hostel. Is it possible for an athlete to survive on Rs 100? This is the amount Bengal athletics association allot to each traveling athlete," alleged Roy.

Though Bengal remains remiss about Olympic sports in the state, things have not changed much for Roy as he continues to search for the state's next athletics icon.

Next Story