SPORTS TRIBUNE Saturday, May 26, 2001, Chandigarh, India
 
Squash champís bid to set up academy
M.S. Unnikrishnan
S
quash is a demanding sport, which needs supreme physical fitness for one to sustain at the top. And itís not a spectator sport in the conventional sense, though glass-back courts and television channels have helped the sport gain popularity among the laymen.

Sports does not help build bridges of any lasting friendship
Ramu Sharma
A
popular adage links sports with friendship even as religion relates to peace. Nothing can be further than that. Sports may have all the ingredients to bind people in friendly bondage but in real life very rarely does that happen. It is the opposite that often manifests, friendship giving way to rivalry which sometimes embroils the supporters into frenzied and often violent reaction. 

Make officials accountable
Sushil Kapoor
A
LL sports federations in the country are being run by people who are either politicians in high places, senior bureaucrats and in certain cases businessmen of substance. In most cases they have no first hand experience of the sports they are supposed to be managing and to cap it all accountability has no place in their scheme of things.

Indian football looking up
Amardeep Bhattal
T
HREE victories and eleven goals by India in the soccer World Cup qualifiers! An astonishing feat indeed, if viewed in the backdrop of past performances. The Asian Zone 8 qualifiers for the 2002 soccer World Cup which concluded recently saw India putting up a memorable show.

 
  • Favouritism bane of Indian sport

  • Punjab cricketers

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Squash champís bid to set up academy
M.S. Unnikrishnan

Squash is a demanding sport, which needs supreme physical fitness for one to sustain at the top. And itís not a spectator sport in the conventional sense, though glass-back courts and television channels have helped the sport gain popularity among the laymen.

Still, it comes as a revelation that squash has a very major constituency among the young who want to take to the sport in a big way. And this infectious enthusiasm for squash, considered as an "elite" sport, has given the confidence to 16-time national womenís singles champion Bhuvneshwari Kumari to venture into setting up a squash-tennis academy in Delhi.

But the concept is only at the germinating stage, though she has been toying with the idea for quite some time. Acquiring the necessary land and finding the right sponsors have been her biggest challenge, and she is still fighting to overcome these two major hurdles, to realise her long-cherished, and pet dream.

When an irreparable injury to her right knee forced Bhuvneshwari to call its quits from competitive squash in 1992 after winning 16 national titles on the trot the lady with the iron will power and unfathomable stamina did not know what to do. She took to coaching after some contemplation, but the response has been overwhelming, despite the limited facilities available to squash learners in North India.

This limited, or lack of access, to squash courts to young aspirants forced Bhuvneshwari to think in terms of setting up an academy in Delhi. She approached the then Lt. Governor of Delhi Romesh Bhandari with her proposal in her capacity not only as a top player but also as an Arjuna Awardee to secure a plot of land for her dream project, but things did not progress beyond the elementary stage and her idea got stuck in a groove of disappointment.

But Bhuvneshwari is once again back to work towards realising her dream, and the Padma Shri award, conferred on her this year for her immense contribution to squash has only fired her determination to achieve her goal, sooner than later.

The main problem is that of finance as no corporate house is willing to shell out the kind of money that is needed to set up the academy as mileage from squash will not be as great as in some other sport. Thatís the reason she is teaming up with her younger sister and tennis champion Sohini Kumari, who herself has taken to squash after quitting from competitive tennis, to establish a squash-tennis academy.

Bhuvneshwari herself became a squash player under fortuitous circumstances. She was a promising tennis player and when the going seemed good, she got a call to play in the Senior National Squash Championship held at the St. Stephenís College court in Delhi in 1976, just out of the blue, as it were, when the organisers fell short of one player of the minimum required number of eight lady players. They approached Bhuvneshwari, and hey presto! after just 10 daysí of practice, a squash champion was born. She captured the national title in 1997, and there was no looking back ever since. She reigned supreme for 16 years at the top till she quit the scene after winning the title in 1992, beating Misha Grewal in the title clash. She won 16 national titles, 41 state titles, and two international titles (Kenyan Open championship in 1988 and 1989) to set an unparalleled record and enter her name in the Limca Book of Records. She was also twice runner-up in the Kenyan Open, and semi-finalist in the Asian championship, the Malaysian Open and the Singapore Open.

She received the Arjuna Award in 1982, and the Padma Shri in 2001, to add to a clutch of other awards she had accumulated over the years during an illustrious career. Bhuvneshwari can take justifiable credit for taking womenís squash to a peak, and she had even challenged the supremacy of the men by competing in the senior menís nationals twice, though she couldnít progress beyond the quarter-final stage.

As she looks back, Bhuvneshwari feels contented as the path she charted out is now being followed by many youngsters. "Lots of kids are coming up in squash, though compared to tennis or golf, squash has still some way to go to catch up", Bhuvneshwari told The Tribune.

She said the advantage of squash being an all-weather sport has added to its appeal among the youngsters. "You can play squash 365 days of the year," she said. The former champ plans to have a minimum of three to four courts in her proposed academy, though each glass-back court would cost about Rs 10 lakh, and the normal cement court Rs 6 to 7 lakh each. The squash court, being of 21x33 feet, does not take much space, but the cost of setting it up really goes through the roof.

Bhuvneshwari feels nine years will be the ideal age for the kids to start learning squash. She said the present lot of 14-odd trainees with her at the Gymkhana courts here "are very keen, and their enthusiasm makes me cross my fingers, as I should carry on till they reach the peak." She said the paucity of courts is indeed a big handicap in the growth of the sport.

The Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI) has its own facility in Chennai with three courts, where regular coaching classes are held, besides the national camps, but itís not enough to cater to the growing number of youngsters who want to get initiated into the sport. There are enough sponsors to take care of individual talent, which Bhuvneshwari did not have the privilege of having during her playing days, except the odd sponsor for rackets and shoes. Looking back, Bhuvneshwari is, however, "quite satisfied" with what squash has given her. She said the SRFI has also begun sending juniors abroad for training and competitions, though during her playing days, foreign exposure was a rare luxury as she herself got to play only in two Asian championships.

Bhuvneshwari said 15-year-old reigning national womenís champion Jyotsna Chinnappa of Chennai was an exciting prospect, as she had downed four-time champion Meghdey Subedar, to ascend the throne. Five-time national runner-up Honey Sharma is another good player on the circuit, though in her time Bhuvneshwari did not have to encounter serious threat from anybody, barring Misha Grewal, who is the only other woman squash player to have won the Arjuna Award.

Bhuvneshwari is pinning her hopes on the Delhi Government, the Union Minister of Youth Affairs and Sports Uma Bharati, and some corporate houses to make her squash academy dream come true. Like P.T. Usha, itís a strong urge to give something back to the sport which has given her everything, thatís driving Bhuvneshwari to realise her dream into a reality. She is now hunting for the necessary land and a solid sponsor to set up the two-in-one squash-tennis academy. She hopes to get things in place soon. But getting a sponsor seems to be a big problem. Squash, anyone?
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Sports does not help build bridges of
any lasting friendship
Ramu Sharma

A popular adage links sports with friendship even as religion relates to peace. Nothing can be further than that. Sports may have all the ingredients to bind people in friendly bondage but in real life very rarely does that happen. It is the opposite that often manifests, friendship giving way to rivalry which sometimes embroils the supporters into frenzied and often violent reaction. In fact with the growing distrust among nations sporting competition has on occasions been used to express suspicion and hatred rather than spread the much-touted scent of love and friendship.

During the past few months there has been unending controversy whether India should play Pakistan in cricket and that such a competition would help sooth hurt feelings and generate an atmosphere of bonhomie among the supporters. It was the same old reason that such meetings would help lessen tensions and were very important for the welfare of the sub-continent. The Government poured cold water over such sentiments. India could play Pakistan in all the games except cricket. Such selective discrimination amounted to projecting cricket as a war game rather than sport. But then such is politics. But it has to be accepted that such meetings hardly ever encourage bonhomie among the people of the two countries. In fact according to one report such competitions in Sharjah for instance only underscored the rivalry and the bitterness harboured among the supporters. The report made it clear that Indians and Pakistanis would be the best of friends eating and drinking together. But once the cricket fever hit them, they would huddle themselves into separate groups, and be at each otherís throats, as it were. Cricket in Sharjah was thus the biggest obstacle in the way of friendship between expatriates of India and Pakistan.

Sport certainly has quite often created more problems than settling issues. One recalls the rather unprecedented occurrence in 1969 when El Salvador and the Honduras went to war, to assuage feelings spilling over from incidents during their World Cup football qualifying match. And it was sport, boxing in this case, when Reno (Nevada) Jack Johnson knocked out Jim Jefferies in the 15th round of the world heavyweight title the verdict sparked off race riots in the United States. Johnson was "black" and Jefferies, a former champion who came out of retirement, the "great white hope." For purposes of history Johnson was the first "black" to wear the heavyweight crown.

India in its own way once suffered because of its political philosophy. Remember the Asian Games of 1962 in Jakarta. "Thousands of Indonesians stormed the Indian Embassy, breaking furniture, tearing down shutters, uprooting trees, and troops had to be called to prevent an insult to the flag." The crowd wanted the Senior Vice President of the Asian Games, Mr G.D. Sondhi, to go home. His fault! As an IOC observer for the Games, he had mooted the idea of dropping of the word "fourth" from the Games as the hosts had drawn on their political prerogative by banning Formosa (Taiwan) and Israel from the competition. Sondhiís principled stand so infuriated the host that it cut off trade relations with India. Whoever said sport unites?

Sport these days, in fact even from the earliest days, has never been a uniting factor as it has been claimed. In fact international competitions have been used for propaganda purposes as Hitler did the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin or the reportedly drug-fed competitors from the Eastern Bloc to further the Communist ideology, a sort of one-upmanship over Americanism as it were.

Football for instance is hardly ever free from crowd violence. "English Hooligans" did not earn the name by just sitting and watching the game in England and elsewhere in Europe.

Violence of course has been a part and parcel of sport with ill-will being generated at the cost of goodwill on some occasions. One such example was the tragedy of the Munich Olympics. It was politics of violence that shook the world during these Games with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation terrorists bringing home their demands in an all too tragic a manner. In one of the worse ever incidents of this sort Israeli competitors were held hostage at gun point, and rescue attempts by the police led to many of the athletes killed. The Germans were not allowed to forget the bitter memories of the Nazi campaign to wipe of the Jews during World War II.

Sport has in fact been generally a platform for many politically motivated expressions. The boycott by the African countries of the Montreal Games in 1976 was to show the displeasure against New Zealand , one of the participants, which had violated their trust by entertaining a rugby team from South Africa, the apostle of apartheid then.

Sport is thus neither free from politics or far away from violence and all sorts of prejudices. In fact multi-event internationals only contribute to highlight the differences. There is a lesson for India in particular where the perception of sport is somewhat old worldly. It is perhaps sad but sporting contests generally never really cement friendship. There were and are any number of people in India and Pakistan who feel that the two countries must relate more often on the field of sport.

Much as one would wish that would happen, it remains regrettably a fallacy. These people are far away from reality. The reality is and was the hostile reception by the crowd during the India matches in the World Cup hockey at Lahore in 1990. At the end of the tournament one felt that it had been one of the biggest mistakes for India to have gone and taken part in the tournament. And things are no better now. Any sporting activity, particularly cricket and hockey, is not going to draw the countries together. One could go a little further and even include volleyball in the same category. The Indian team which was in Islamabad for a major competition recently will tell you what it felt to play in front of a hostile crowd. In the case of India and Pakistan sports unfortunately is far from being a healer.

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Make officials accountable
Sushil Kapoor

ALL sports federations in the country are being run by people who are either politicians in high places, senior bureaucrats and in certain cases businessmen of substance. In most cases they have no first hand experience of the sports they are supposed to be managing and to cap it all accountability has no place in their scheme of things. This apathy on the part of the sports administrators is truly reflected in the results that we have been achieving in various disciplines over the years.

The latest census has put the population of India officially over 100 millions and what have we to show to the world in the field of sporting excellence ? A bronze in weightlifting won by a woman athlete, K. Maleshwari, in the Sydney Olympics sent the whole nation in a tizzy with the President and the Prime Minister of the country joining the band of back slappers. None in this country lamented the dismal performance of the Indian contingent in the Olympics.

A large number of officials/observers that accompanied the Indian party to the Sydney Olympics were not concerned about the performance and welfare of the players who were making a valiant bid for the elusive medal but they were busy making the best of the foreign jaunt which they had managed for reasons not purely sporting in nature.

When our main medal hope, the hockey team, returned without a medal captain, the coach and a few heads of players rolled. But I have yet to see or hear of any official of the Indian Hockey Federation being sacked or made accountable for the debacle. Whereas the players sweat and toil to bring honours for the country and in case of failure these heroes are quickly turned into zeroes, the officials who bask in the glory of the players go scot free despite enjoying the best perks that can be made available to an individual.

Since there is no accountability of these officials they have made a vicious nexus in the respective federations of doling out favours of paid foreign jaunts to their henchmen as managers\ observers\ delegates and in turn these people help their masters to continue with their stranglehold on the respective national sports federation.

It is a matter of shame that in athletics even after 54 years of Independence we still talk about the fourth slot that " Flying Sikh Milkha Singh got in 400 metres in the 1960 Olympics. The government over the years has brought out so many coaching schemes and coaching institutions for many games but the end result has remained a big zero.

A whiff of fresh air does come once a while in the form of some good showings like the All-England Badminton Championship win by P Gopichand, some exciting victories in tennis by the duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi and the recent Indian cricket teamís win at home against the Australians punctuated by some dream performance of Sachin Tendulkar, Harbhajan Singh and V V S Laxman.

If Indian sportspersons have to make a mark in the world arena then the sports officials have to be made accountable as it is these officials who are responsible to provide the basic infrastructure, coaching and other facilities. Unless we have officials with sporting backgrounds to interact with the players, it is not possible to produce world beaters. No doubt able administrators are also needed, but then all of them must be made accountable and should make way for others in case of failures.

To bring in accountability more professionalism will have to be introduced. As of today the officials occupy positions of authority in honorary capacity although this is the greatest misnomer. A close look at the goings-on in the various associations will reveal the disparity between the money spent on the promotion of the games and to the upkeep of these honorary officials, including their very frequent foreign jaunts and the luxury of the five-star culture.

With the advances made in the field of electronic and print media, the coverage given to these officials at times outstrips the mileage received by achievers in the other fields. But these officials must have the moral courage to own up the responsibility of sporting debacles and be accountable to this sports crazy nation.

The present Sports Minister, Ms Uma Bharti, seems to be quite concerned about the falling standards of Indian sports and is keen about its revival and if her messages to the IHF and the BCCI are any indication then she means business. It would be pertinent to say that sports should be above party lines and as such the government should make it mandatory for the various national sports federations to incorporate the clause of accountability for their key officials in their respective constitutions.

The time of reckoning has come and the sports administrators must become trail-blazers by adopting the concept of accountability and take Indian sports to new heights.
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Indian football looking up
Amardeep Bhattal

THREE victories and eleven goals by India in the soccer World Cup qualifiers! An astonishing feat indeed, if viewed in the backdrop of past performances. The Asian Zone 8 qualifiers for the 2002 soccer World Cup which concluded recently saw India putting up a memorable show. Out of six matches, India lost one, drew two and won three. Though ranked 122nd in the world, India caused ripples by overpowering the 64th ranked United Arab Emirates, who incidentally qualified for the second round from this group. Taking note of Indiaís showing, the Asian Football Confederation picked Indian coach Sukhwinder Singh for the Ďcoach of the monthí awardó a just reward for the efforts to mould the outfit into a fighting combination within a short span. 

After the shock 1-0 win over the UAE at Bangalore in their first outing, India lost the away match to UAE by a similar margin. They needed a victory against Yemen but the 1-1 draw left them frustrated. It was once again a repetition of the earlier story when Yemen held them to a 3-3 draw. But India took the field without ace striker Baichung Bhutia, who was shown the red card in the earlier match.

The last two outings against lowly Brunei were rewarding. First India beat them 1-0 in the away match and then thrashed them 5-0 in the home tie, which was their last engagement.

Jules Alberto, IM Vijayan, Baichung Bhutia, Joe Paul Ancheri and others became national heroes for the fine showing. Just one more goal would have put India at the second place on better goal average as compared to Yemen who finished with the same number of points.

Till a few years back, Indian football was in a hopeless situation. Goals in the international arena were scarce. Even timid opposition at times was enough to beat the Indians into submission. Countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan proved to be tough hurdles.

Team selection, many a times, was warped in controversy. Talent went unrecognised as a coterie influenced all major decisions. Selection of the coach caused heartburn.

The novel idea of launching the National Football League on professional lines in 1996 at the behest of the world footballís governing body, FIFA brought about a dramatic change. Talented players are now getting an opportunity to demonstrate their prowess in various parts of the country and cannot be overlooked. The initial results are before us.

From non-entities, we have come to be recognised as a force in the Asian circuit. As a direct consequence of our showing in the World Cup qualifiers, India have been invited for the prestigious Merdeka Cup in Kuala Lumpur being held next month. Our neighbours, Pakistan, have invited the Indian football team to play a series of Test matches on home and away basis in February next year. Indian football is on the ascendancy.

The following are the final standings of the teams in the Asian Zone Group 8 World Cup qualifiers (read under teams, matches played, won, drawn, lost, goals for, goals against, and points):

Teams

P

W

D

L

GF

GA

Pts

UAE

6

4

0

2

21

5

12

Yemen

6

3

2

1

14

8

11

India

6

3

2

1

11

5

11

Brunei 6 0 0 6 0 28 0


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SPORT MAIL

Favouritism bane of Indian sport

I read with interest the article ĎAn Olympian deserves better treatmentí relating to Gurbachan Singh Randhawa. After reading it, an interesting episode concerning my son, came to my mind. In 1997 my son was a student at the Sector 16 model school in Chandigarh and was a very good table tennis player. The school teacher ignored him and instead chose another student who stood at serial No 10 for the state championship against my sonís standing of No 3. My son came home weeping. On being asked he told me about the partial attitude of the sports teacher of the school. Fortunately, after some persuasion the sports teacher agreed to let the students play again. After the first game, my son stood third whereas the student who was chosen by the sports teacher lost the game. The teacher felt ashamed. My son was very happy at that time but he felt the pain in one corner of his heart. At that time he was happy but perhaps he took a silent vow not to play the game in future because of partial attitude of the teachers. And after that my son did not play table tennis and instead dedicated his time to serious study. Today he is computer engineer. It is the evil of pick and choose which has let down our country in sports in the international arena. The story of Gurbachan Singh Randhawa is pathetic and he must fight for his rights and Indian Oil Corporation must be sued for denying the all-time great athlete his due.

UJAGAR SINGH, Chandigarh

Punjab cricketers

The charge that four players from Punjab were named for the one-day international against Australia to ensure Punjabís defeat in the Ranji semifinal seems to be true. Now the Indian team announced for the Zimbabwe tour has only one Punjab player, Harbhajan Singh. There is an indication by the chairman of the selection committee that Reetinder Sodhi may be included in the one-day matches due to his allround performance. Reetinder is an outstanding allrounder and he should be given continuous exposure in both Test and one-day internationals. He has an excellent record in the junior World Cup as well as domestic cricket. Besides he was the hero of the fifth and final one-day international against Zimbabwe when they toured India. The lone Punjab player, Harbhajan Singh, should also not take his place in the team for granted. Going by media reports it is obvious that a powerful lobby in cricket is still not fully convinced with the record performance of Harbhajan Singh. It may be remembered that he is the only cricketer in India to get 32 wickets and also the lone cricketer to achieve a hat-trick. Harbhajan could not give a good performance in the first two one-day matches. This lobby started saying that he was fit only for Test matches. Now this lobby is saying that he will have to show his performance abroad also. Keeping these things in view, Harbhajan will have to give an excellent performance. Navjot Singh Sidhu scored 341 runs at an average of 68.20 against Australia in 1998 and according to a Wisden rating he was No 2 batsman in the world. Despite this performance he was discriminated against time and again.

PRITPAL SINGH, Patiala

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