Saturday, March 8, 2003
T A K I N G   N O T E 

Punjabis and sports go together
Prabhjot Singh

A number of rural sports festivals are organised in Punjab
A number of rural sports festivals are organised in Punjab

THEIR tremendous corporal strength and spirit of adventure makes them ardent lovers of sports. For Punjabis, sports is not only a pastime but an integral part of their lifestyle. That could be one explanation why so many Punjabis have done so well in international sports, not only for India, their motherland, but also for their adopted countries.

Perhaps not many may be aware that the only Indian to have won an individual gold in Olympic Games is a Punjabi, Alexi Grewal, who came first in road races in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. Subsequently, he became a professional cyclist and retired from the sport in 1998. His younger brother, Rishi Grewal, is currently one of world’s top mountain biker.

Besides the Grewal brothers, a lot of Punjabi boys, especially from rural Punjab, have done exceedingly well for various countries, especially in hockey, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting and kabaddi.


In hockey alone, Punjabi boys — Sutinder Kehr and Kulbir Bhaura (England), Babli Chauhan (Canada), Parminder Singh (Kenya) and Sarjit Singh (Malaysia) — have led their respective national teams in international tournaments. Shiv Jagday, after serving as national coach of Canada, is currently the national coach of the US Field Hockey team (men). Punjabis have represented 14 countries in various international tournaments, including Olympic Games, in field hockey alone.

The unabated spirit for adventure and the free time between the sowing and harvesting of a crop gives an average Punjabi a lot of time to indulge and participate in extra-curricular activities. This is why Punjab is the only state which has a number of rural sports festivals. These festivals — which are normally organised between end of November and the beginning of April — focus on indigenous sports.

Though the current meet being organised by Punjab is for rural boys and girls in certain sports which are recognised and approved both by the International Olympic Committee and the respective International Sports Federations, Punjabis are known to develop their own sports, games and rules.

It is this dedication and commitment which has helped Punjab produce as many as 70 per cent of the total medallists of the country in the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games. Nearly 75 per cent of the total Olympians of the country come from Punjab alone. Until the early 80s, it was Punjab which dominated the national sports scenario.

Unfortunately, two decades of turbulence took a heavy toll on sports. But it failed to suppress or kill the spirit of adventure in Punjabis. After return of peace, Punjab is back on the track, winning laurels again. Kila Raipur, one of the oldest venues of rural sports in Punjab, is recognised worldwide as the venue for Rural Olympics.

For example, bullock-cart race is a unique sporting event which reflects the understanding between a farmer and the bullocks he uses to plough his field. In a way, it is as difficult as horse riding. But since all farmers cannot afford to keep horses, they have found a indigenous version of IOC-recognised equestrian sports.

Then there are popular events and sports like kabaddi, wrestling, camel cart races, sack lifting, races for dogs, loading and unloading of tractor-trailers and carts, cycling, tent-pegging, horse riding and also pulling vehicles with teeth or lifting heavy weights with teeth or other parts of body.

Besides, each rural sports festival in Punjab organises competitions in hockey, football, track and field, volleyball and basketball.

In Punjab there are pockets or nurseries for a particular sport. If Sunam is known for boxing since it has produced some of the top pugilists of the country, Sansarpur was known for hockey. Mahilpur has always been the nursery of soccer. Alamgir in Ludhiana is known for wrestling, while some of the top weightlifters trained either at Phagwara or at Ludhiana (Shan weightlifting centre). Banga and Sunam have produced some of the top cross-country racers while throwers (athletics) have been mostly from Gurdaspur and Jalandhar.

Coming up fast on the sports map are places like Kotkapura (basketball) where the basic facilities, including playfields, have been made available. Anandpur Sahib has the country’s first indoor martial sports centre. It is up to the Sports Authority of India or the Department of Sports of the Punjab Government to decide how best to utilise this facility created as part of the tercentenary celebrations of the birth of Khalsa.