P T Usha feels "frustrated" at the lack of corporate interest in athletics and said despite running from pillar to post, she has failed to find a sponsor for her protege Tintu Luka.
"The international stage is so competitive now and you need international exposure and rigorous training regime. All these need huge spending and corporate sponsorship is a must for a talented athlete to win medals at the international stage," Usha said.
"I spotted Tintu at an early age and wanted a sponsor for her at that stage itself. She is an Asian record holder (in the 800 metres) and finished 11th in the London Olympics and she can be among the world's top runners with more international exposure. But I could not find a sponsor even after running from pillar to post. It's frustrating sometimes," she said.
Usha, however, said she would not blame the corporate sector as the sponsors look for results and obviously profitability.
"The sponsors naturally look for results and obviously for returns from the money they spent. So it's really difficult to get a sponsor for an athlete in India. I don't blame the corporate sector for this, but it's simply not coming," said Usha.
"Even for my Usha School of Athletics (in Kerala), it was really difficult to get corporate help. With help from sports ministry and support from individual persons at the Infosys, I was able to run the School," she added.
Usha felt happy that star discus thrower Krishna Poonia finally got a sponsor with Hindustan Zinc, signing a two-year deal with her, to bear her training expenses.
"I felt bad that Poonia had to struggle to find a sponsor after her Commonwealth Games gold-winning feat. But it's good that she has got one now. It should boost her confidence to win more laurels for the country," Usha said.
Usha on Sunday took part in a talent scouting programme called 'Speedstar', which picked two 100m sprinters each in the age group of under 12, 14 and 16 from among schoolchildren in a grand finale in Mumbai and she said it is heartening that corporate sector have started coming in for grassroot initiative.
The six winners will have a week-long intensive training in Australia under the guidance of Sharon Hannan, the well-known athletics coach under whom Olympic gold medallist Sally Pearson trains.
“It's heartening that corporate sector has come in for grassroot initiative. We need to groom talented athletes from a young age. You cannot find a gold medallist out of nothing. They need to be groomed from a young age.
"In other top athletics countries, there are lots of competitors for each event but that is not there in India. Competition is limited in our country. So grooming athletes at the grassroot will increase the talent pool and competition," she said.
Usha said Luka will skip the three legs of Indian Grand Prix in March-April as well as Federation Cup National Senior Athletics Championships in Patiala (April 23-26). She will start competing in May with the Asian Grand Prix and Doha leg of Diamond League Meetings on May 10.
"She will start with the Asian Grand Prix and then will take part in Doha leg of Diamond League Meetings. That would give her a good preparation for Asian Championships in Chennai (July 4-7) and World Championships in Moscow (August 10-18)," said Usha.
The first leg of the Asian Grand Prix will be held in Bangkok on May 8, while the next two legs will held in Colombo (May 12) and Chennai (May 16).
Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images