The game of tennis has traditionally been an elite sport, a game affordable to the affluent. Over the last 20 years Chandigarh has adopted created champions from among highly gifted village children from the neighboring states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The vibrant institute, ‘Chandigarh Academy for Rural Tennis’ (CHART) is a part of the Tennis Stadium, appropriately set in the sylvan green Leisure Valley in Sector 10.
CHART was established in the year 1988 by Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association (CLTA), an autonomous elected body affiliated with All India Tennis Association. Every two years or so 6-8 physically gifted boys and girls are selected at the age of 9 years from among hundreds of aspirants from the rural hinterland through a scientific talent search. The initial trials evaluate the candidates on their physical fitness and athletic ability. Technical experts, headed by a former University Professor of Physical Education, shortlist some 40 candidates.
At the final stage of selection in Chandigarh, the boys and girls are assessed for their aptitude for the game of tennis, on such factors as hand eye coordination and ball sense. The Academy does not demand of CHART candidates any prior knowledge of the game of tennis. None of the village children selected in year 2009, for instance, had ever held a racquet before entering the Academy, but they displayed high potential.
Interestingly the entire group of eight children selected in the year 2009 is from families of marginal farmers and landless agricultural labour, subsisting below the official poverty line. To embellish these uncut gems, the academy bears the entire cost of the children’s board and lodging in its own hostel, their education in a reputed public school, and training and equipment and participation in tournaments. The project requires a financial commitment of 15000 rupees per month in respect of every performing trainee until he or she attains the age of 18 years.
Since its advent CHART has produced champions at the junior and senior level, notably Sunil Kumar, India’s senior national champion at age 16 years, Robin Dhingra, Asian Junior champion, and Vijayant Malik, a current probable for India’s team for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games 2010. Besides, a string of junior champions in various age groups have emerged from the same stables. Some products have become reputed coaches and umpires. Impressed with the visible results from CHART, top international trainers have been visiting Chandigarh. Doug McCurdy, a Director from International Tennis Federation, was in Chandigarh on three different occasions to appraise the coaching scheme. The pursuit of excellence continues.
CLTA’s faculty of 30 coaches and physical trainers runs a scientific Junior Development Programme for as many as 450 boys and girls in the age group 4-18 years. Whereas the CHART trainees stay in the hostel within the campus, the majority, being locally based, live at home. The campus has 12 synthetic and clay courts, six of them flood lit, with four smaller courts for the youngest group of children in the 4-7 years age group.
If the credo for CHART is “catch them rural”, the training school as a whole aims to “catch them young, and teach them young.” The regimen includes rigorous training, linked with tough physical and mental conditioning. The faculty, including some of the best coaches in the country, hails from many states, including coaches from Kolkata and even from distant Manipur.
Over the years reputed players from all over India, and even from abroad, have been using the facilities at CLTA for advanced training. The inter action between varied regions, social groups and tennis skills stimulates performance of all. On any afternoon, as many as 250 children of all age groups can be seen engaged in serious tennis lessons, which they seem obviously to be enjoying.
The land and buildings of the stadium complex, established tastefully by the Chandigarh Administration, are property of the Administration, conforming to the grand design of Le Corbousier, the city’s famous architect. The management of the facility is a model of partnership between the official establishment (the Administration of the Union Territory of Chandigarh) and a specialized sports institution (CLTA). While government, as owner, provides and upgrades the basic infrastructure, CLTA is expected to conduct all tennis related activities as a professionally run, financially self reliant organization.
The structure of management was established by a former Administrator of Chandigarh UT, Mr. Siddhartha Shankar Ray in the year 1987. Mr. Ray took the visionary decision to lease out the tennis stadium complex on a 10 year lease to CLTA. The lease agreement, subsequently extended by Mr. Ray’s successor by a further 20 years, holds the lessee accountable for quality in performance.
The executive body comprises seasoned administrators and professionals from public life. Two office bearers, the Chairman and President, are former Chief Secretaries to the State Government. The present Honorary Secretary is a former Director General of Police, a distinguished sportsman (a national weight lifter in his time). Eminent members are drawn from the field of education and industry. CLTA has among its mentors such sporting legends as former and current national champions and captains of the Indian Davis Cup team. Naresh Kumar, Ramesh Krishnan and Leander Paes provide invaluable guidance on tennis matters as CLTA’s honorary advisors. These links have helped to bring the city of Chandigarh on the international sports map, the city having hosted numerous national and international events, including two Davis Cup ties.
Every year, players are given scholarships and incentives for outstanding performance in various tournaments. CLTA is a non profit organization. It receives no official grant for its training schemes. Any revenues generated are ploughed back into the game for supporting players and improving infrastructure. No member is entitled to, or draws, any sitting fee for meetings. They are expected to work in honorary capacity, for the love of the game, which binds together players and management. The Association specifically prohibits by rule its members to have any business interest in tennis related activity.
The function of a nursery is to identify, breed and nurture quality. It prepares its subjects to enter the tough world of competition. The products of this Chandigarh’s nursery for tennis are surely worth watching.
|Sl.No||Name of Trainees||Date of Birth||State||Year of Joining|
|1||Ranjeet Singh||11.01.1995||Himachal Pradesh||2004|
|Partly Sponsored by Army Headquarters Western Command.|
|25||Dheeranush Singh Bhatti||20.01.1997||Chandigarh||2004|