Convert Race course for Sports Tourism
A lingering legacy of the British in Ooty was the love of sports of all kind. Englishmen brought, among other sports, gymkhana, polo, cricket, boating, tennis, shooting and horse racing to the Nilgiris. They also invented the game of snooker here.
Sports, particularly, football, cricket and hockey continued to be popular throughout the district. Nilgiris produced legendary football and hockey players in 1950s and 60s. The district was chosen as the acclimatization centre for the Indian contingent to the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. Several national level championships were held at Ooty since then.
Sports activities have steadily declined in the last two decades for lack of promotion, modern sports facilities and sponsor for sports events.
A proposal has now been made to set up a high altitude sports facility in the Nilgiris. This ought to be done in a manner that will combine revival of local interest in sports and promotion of sports tourism in the district.
The location of the proposed sports facilities should be such that they can get sufficient patronage by the locals and the tourists. This would necessitate the choice of such locations in or around Ooty which is convenient for locals and tourists, bulk of whom come from sports loving Kerala and Karnataka from the north. Big ticket events covering cricket, football and athletics can easily attract corporate sponsorship it the venues are in Ooty.
The race course which occupies more than 5 acres of prime land in the heart of the Ooty town would be the ideal choice for such a facility inside Ooty.
The present race course was not fully operational till 1900. Before that there were smaller race courses at Wellington and Devala.
Ooty race course was always a multi-sports complex. In the earlier days the race course also housed the Archery, Badminton and Croquet (ABC) club, a prominent land mark which was pulled down without valid reason. Many national level tournaments have been conducted in the race course grounds.
Ooty races have become unviable and have long ceased to have any tourist attraction. In 1975 a committee set up to study the socio economic impact of horse racing in the state after the abolition of horse racing noted that ‘the racing public were the biggest losers by about one third of their total contribution over a period of ten years. Government in general was the largest gainers by about one fifth of the total funds by way of taxes. The next largest gainers were the horse owners who profited by about 6.6% of the total funds’.
Now, the government also appears to be a loser with the Madras Race Club owing to the Revenue department nearly Rs. 400 crores by way of lease rent arrears
The recent Asian Racing Conference held in Mumbai highlighted major concerns for the horse racing industry worldwide. It concluded that unlike other sports horse racing solely depended on betting for survival. Ooty punter population has sharply declined over the years and there is little scope for attracting newcomers.
For the same reason, a similar demand is also being made to convert the 250 acre Mumbai race course into a public space.
Ooty race course can be converted into a multipurpose complex with focus on sports, parks and parking. Horse racing can still be continued and even night racing can also be considered as a tourist attraction. Most race courses in the world are multipurpose venues. Ooty course can be redone on the lines of the Happy Valley course in Hong Kong which has a similar layout as Ooty.
In addition to the race course, the sports authorities should consider taking over the sport facilities in the now defunct HPF premises. It should not be too difficult for the state government to have the HPF sports grounds and facilities that may have been offered as security to banks released for the purpose. It will be great folly if high altitude facilities are located outside Ooty just because land is available.
Voteforooty will highlight case for Sports Tourism as a major campaign in the coming elections.