Athletes in Karnataka despise football at Kanteerava stadium

Bangalore Sports

While the Kanteerava Stadium is the home ground for Bengaluru FC, the KAA wants, track and field events to be prioritized at the stadium.

A newly laid synthetic athletics track was glowing dark orange. An excavator was digging the lane for long jump, giving it a final shape. The football goal posts on the field were removed and lying at the far end of the field. A few young players were training for endurance on the stairs. But the stands were empty.

Athletes in the city have been unhappy with the Kanteerava Stadium for two reasons – the poor condition of the synthetic track since quite long and football being prioritized over field events.

The Karnataka Athletics Association (KAA) has been trying to defend its rights over the stadium for a long time now. KAA Secretary A. Rajavelu said, “This [Kanteerava stadium] is not a multi-purpose stadium. It is for athletics primarily, and it should be prioritized here.”

“From day one, it has been an athletics track only and because of football, we have had a lot of hindrances. They used to not allow some of the top athletes to practice there. Especially during the Olympics [in 2016] and Asian games [in 2018],” said Ravi Aiyappa, an athletics coach, specializing in sprints.

The 400-meter athletics track was under re-construction since 2019. The track has finally been re-furbished and an event was held to showcase the newly laid running track.

Karnataka’s Minister of Youth Empowerment and Sports, K. C. Narayan Gowda announced at the event that the ministry has decided to not allow football inside the stadium.

However, the Commissioner of DYES, Dr. H. N. Gopala Krishna has said that a final decision has not been made on the issue, and once decided they will inform the people through media.

About nine years ago, in 2013, Department of Youth Empowerment and Sports (DYES) officials allowed football in the Kanteerava Stadium. This was done to promote preparation for the FIFA under-17 World Cup, 2017 to be hosted in India.

The athletics association and athletes did not oppose this decision back then. “The DYES told us, ‘you can practice there, but football will also be played.’ We thought they will play till the 2017 FIFA under-17 World Cup,” SD Eshan, an Arjuna awardee, and senior athletics coach said.

The matches were shifted to other cities as that the dimensions of the field did not meet the FIFA requirements. “It was later that we understood that they wanted to make it a permanent football stadium in the name of the under-17 World Cup. We were not aware of their motive back then,” Eshan added.

“They didn’t let us practice for a week before the day of their match,” Tejas, an 800-meter state-level runner said.

The stadium is considered to be the home ground of the Indian Super League (ISL) team, JSW owned Bengaluru F.C. since the 2014-15 season. Though the tournament has been organized in Goa in a bio-secure bubble for the last two seasons, it is expected to resume its home-away format from the 2022-23 season.

But the announcement by Gowda has put the conduct of the ISL matches at the stadium in doubt.

Rajavelu also said that they should play at the Bangalore Football Stadium which is exclusively for football.

The Bangalore Football Stadium is under the jurisdiction of the Karnataka State Football Association (KSFA). However, it is highly unlikely that the ISL franchise will adopt the Bangalore football stadium as its new home ground.

“The Bangalore Football stadium has artificial turf. Whereas ISL is played on natural turf,” M. Satyanarayana, secretary of the KSFA explained.

Bengaluru F.C. officials have denied commenting on the matter.

“It’s a good decision taken by the ministry. Instead of encouraging Olympics sports and athletics, they have been trying to give it to a private entity and make money. We don’t mind giving it to football either, but athletics should not be disturbed [sic],” said Aiyappa.

Legal tussle

The athletics fraternity had knocked on the doors of Karnataka High Court a few years, against Bengaluru F.C.’s use of the stadium. The court had asked in 2019 to formulate a policy for the use of the stadium.

“The policy talks about the basketball indoor court, the 200-meter track, and all other spaces. But, it doesn’t talk about the 400-meters synthetic track,” Eshan said.

The recommendations made by the athletics experts were ignored while finalizing the policy. “The committee members including me selected to frame the policy, thoroughly briefed about all the issues. We also made suggestions on how they can earn revenue through athletics. … But they didn’t add our recommendations. They were not bothered about the outdoor track and field,” Eshan explained.

“This stadium was bestowed by the royal family of Mysore for the greater benefit of the people. It is not supposed to be commercialized,” Rajavelu said.

The Kanteerava Stadium outdoor athletics track is expected to host the Khelo India games starting at the end of March 2022.