The ambitious Maharashtra State Olympic Games to unearth and promote talent is all set to unfold in nine different cities across the state from Monday.
Over 8,000 top athletes of the state will compete in 39 disciplines over the next ten days, with Pune's Balewadi Stadium hosting 24 of them.
The Games are being organised after 22 years by the Maharashtra Government in partnership with the Maharashtra Olympic Association.
Addressing a press conference on the eve of the Games, Dr Suhas Diwse, the state Sports Commissioner, pointed out that Maharashtra finish first or second at the national level every year. "But our athletes have the talent to win at the Olympic level too and the Games will be the ideal platform to identify and nurture them," Dr Diwse said.
"We hope to create a data base of over 16,000 athletes, right from the school level, to promote talent at the grassroots," Dr Diwse added.
"The Maharashtra Olympic Association is excited that the Games are finally taking place. They will be the perfect platform for talented players to rise to the top," Mr Namdev Shirgaonkar, secretary of MOA, said.
"Pune is our country's sports capital. That is why we are organizing such a beautiful sports festival here. All the talented players from our state will together for a unique experience and showcase their excellence," Mr Saurav Rao, the Divisional Commissioner, Pune, said.
On Monday, competitions will begin in wrestling (Pune), softball (Jalgaon), badminton (Nagpur) and yogasana (Nashik). Baramati, Aurangabad, Amravati, Mumbai and Sangli are the other host cities.
The official opening ceremony will be held on January 5 in Pune, with the Chief Minister of the state, Hon'ble Shri Eknath Shinde, Deputy Chief Minister, Shri. Devendra Fadnavis, State Sports and Youth Welfare Minister, Mr. Girish Mahajan, and Pune Guardian Minister Mr. Chandrakant Patil attending it.
The Games torch was simultaneously lit in eight divisions of the state and they will arrive in the city of Pune on January 5 where the flame will be lit.
When asked about the budget, Dr Diwse said that the state government had allocated Rs 19 crore for the Games when it was supposed to take place two years back. "But they could not be held due to the pandemic and now the government is considering releasing more funds. In addition, sponsors like Bank of Maharashtra, Tata Group, HDFC Bank etc. have also been roped in," he said.
The government is providing boarding and lodging for all participants, including players, coaches and officials. They have also been insured which will be a first in an event like this.