Had A.C. Ashwini, a ticket collector with the South Western Railways, not been encouraged by her employer with extended leave and a guaranteed salary, the young athlete may not have realised her dream of winning gold in the 4×400 relay at the Commonwealth Games (CWG).
And there were provisions such as these — special casual leave, promotions and cash incentives — that have helped sportspersons fielded by the Railways, a conspicuous presence at the CWG, to bag a whopping one-quarter of all medals Team India won.
The ‘lead partner’ of the CWG clinched 25 of the 101 medals that went to the country — a figure that exceeds the medals won by all the Armed forces put together — according to information accessed from the Railway Sports Promotion Board (RSPB).
Railway employees won 13 of the 38 gold medals, three of the 27 silver medals, and nine of the 36 bronze medals won by the country.
An impressive 92 (of the total 495 Indian participants) at the CWG were Railway employees, a public sector organisation that has historically promoted sport.
Among the past champions supported by the Railways are football player P.K. Banerjee, iconic cricketer Lala Amarnath, ‘Queen of the Indian track’ athlete P.T. Usha, and table tennis player Indu Puri, among other legends.
In fact, the very first gold for Independent India was won at the London Olympics in 1948 by an Indian Hockey Team whose captain was Kishan Lal, a railwayman. And so it is no surprise that the first Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Award, instituted in 2009, was awarded by the President to the RSPB.
The Railways recruit 1,200 sportspersons every year as a policy, said RSPB secretary Jhanja Tripathy.
The Board, an 80-year-old autonomous body under the Ministry, began as the Indian Railways Association in 1928. This was when the first Inter-Railway Athletics meet was held at the Central Park of Connaught Place.
The hockey meet was held at a barren field near the New Delhi Railway station, while the Globe Theatre in Calcutta hosted the boxing meets.
Now, the Railways promote 30 sports, among them several indigenous games such as kho-kho, kabbadi and ball badminton, Ms. Tripathy added.
CWG medals, 2010
Gold: 38 (India), 13 (Indian Railways)
Silver: 27 (India), 3 (Indian Railways)
Bronze: 36 (India), 9 (Indian Railways)
Total: 101 (India), 25 (Indian Railways)
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