A Little History
It was originally conceived by none other than Milkha Singh, better known as the ‘Flying Sikh,’ to create an All India Veteran Athletic Association in 1978. His hope was to mobilise the elderly in India to continue their participation in outdoor activities like athletics and other team sports, which he believed could combat the more debilitating effects of ageing. The very first national meet of this association was conducted in Chandigarh (1979) and was apparently met with a rather lukewarm response and poor turn out. But all of this changed when Singh joined hands with a Singapore-based Olympian Harichadra and an Asian Veteran Body came into existence in 1980. Then in 1981, the first Asian Meet was organised in Singapore in which ten countries took part. Today, MAFI is the body responsible for selecting Masters Athletes to represent India at the World Masters Games, the Asian Masters Athletics Championship as well as other international Masters athletic meets
In Milkha Singh’s own words, “In the last three decades many things have changed. It has changed from Veteran to Master and many new athletic events have been introduced. Today Masters Athletics Federation of India (MAFI) is an affiliated unit of World Masters body.”
All athletes, both men and women, above the age of 35 and 30 respectively are eligible to take part in any of the athletic events during state or national level competitions. There are usually ten age groups ranging from the 35-39 group to the 80 and above group. In 2014’s National Championship in Coimbatore, over 2500 athletes representing 23 states took part in it. The events include individual and team sports.
2015’s national championship was held in Dharmasala from April 16 onwards and Manmohan Singh, General Secretary of the Masters Athletics Association of Himachal (MAAHP)said,”More than 4000 veteran players are expected to participate in the four-day sports extravaganza, in which teams from all states and Union territories will participate.”
A total of 26 athletics events both in men and women section were organised on the newly laid athletics track at Dharamsala in the age group category from 35 to 80 and above. An Indian contingent was also selected from there to participate in the World Masters Athletic to be held in Lyon France later this year.
Interestingly, many participants, especially in the age groups beyond 50, were not necessarily athletes in their youth but most of them had trained for their events. All in all, it’s a pretty inspiring evolution and story as far as we’re concerned. As Milkha Singh put it, “Truly speaking, the games and sports for youth are only a race for establishing new records, but such spectacular performances are short lived and cannot provide permanent agility and fitness, if not continued. Thus the MAFI is providing platform to continue and keep them agile and fit with fabulous achievements at any stage of life span.” The fact that they’re keeping the spirit of sport and healthy competition alive even post older athletes feeling as though they’re ‘washed up’ is a remarkable achievement all on its own.