SPORTS TRIBUNE Saturday, August 11, 2001, Chandigarh, India
Arjuna Awards in danger of becoming a national joke
Ramu Sharma

LL these years Arjuna Award, one had been given to believe, was for excellence on the field of sport. There was some genuineness related to the awards, some attempts at honest evaluation and sporting thoughts. Unfortunately , for quite some time now, the awards have lost their glitter. 

More changes needed in BAI
K.R. Wadhwaney
ULLELA Gopichand of Andhra Pradesh is the second Indian to have claimed the All-England crown some months ago. The first was Karnataka’s Prakash Padukone many years ago.

Cricketers lack mental toughness
Sushil Kapoor
HE heroics of Virender Shewag, a leading member of the young brigade, who with his scintillating knock of an exact 100 in the typical mould of master blaster Sachin Tendulkar, helped raise the sagging spirits of the Indian cricket team and its staunch followers back home by delivering a knockout punch to the Black Cats and ensured a place in the final of the Coca Cola Cup and pose a formidable challenge to the rampaging Sri Lankan Tigers in their own den.

Betting a multi-crore business
Vimal Sumbly
HE cricket betting has become a multi-crore business in Punjab with Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Ferozepore and Chandigarh emerging as main centres. Different bookies like Raju and Ashok groups in Jalandhar, Nittu group in Chandigarh and the Pappu group in Ferozepore are said to be active for quite some time now.

  • Baljit Dhillon’s statement surprising

  • Cricket defeat



Arjuna Awards in danger of becoming
a national joke
Ramu Sharma

ALL these years Arjuna Award, one had been given to believe, was for excellence on the field of sport. There was some genuineness related to the awards, some attempts at honest evaluation and sporting thoughts. Unfortunately , for quite some time now, the awards have lost their glitter. The announcement of the yearly list no longer is received with the same eagerness. Earlier, the honoured ones were usually taken by surprise. Now, in some cases, they appear to know in advance that they are on the honours list for the year. Why should they not know? After all they have applied for the awards and in most cases worked behind the scenes, using all their clout, to ensure that they get the honours.

That unfortunately is the impression that is being created in recent years. It is difficult to believe that this most prestigious of sports awards can be got by simply applying for it. And if Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, former hurdler, an Olympic finalist in the event in the Tokyo edition of the games, is to be believed, that recommendations for considerations were even received from the PMO’s office. He was heard stating so in an interview on one of the TV channels. And he was not joking. He appeared to have the facts and figures on his finger tips. According to him, he had read about these recommendations from a newspaper report.

It is of course quite ridiculous to drag such an august office as that of the PMO into such a small issue. But the point is that influence is being brought at every level and there have certainly been cases where the preference by the minister of the day has enabled men and women to come into the picture. It may not be the choice of the minister concerned but there is no doubt that he has been misguided. Ministers with little or no knowledge of the working of sports fall easy prey to such machinations. No one should question their personal honesty.

The list of awardees announced last week has necessarily created a lot of stir, particularly in the minds of those who thought that they had established their rights with performances on the field of sport. But leave aside those who have been ignored. Their reaction is but natural. The issue now is not about the ones that have been left out. The surprise is about some of the people who have been resurrected years after their active days were over. The choice of awards in some cases this year is really cause for concern. The Arjuna Award is a national honour and should be earned with performances on the field, not off it. One should be proud to be chosen for the honour. At least that should be the natural reaction. Unfortunately the awards now tend to get more and more political in nature with interested parties pulling in every direction to ensure that their man or woman gets the award, or perhaps even more importantly, the money that comes with it. It is the financial weight of the awards that appears to have wreaked havoc with the Arjuna Awards. There is no other explanation for the complete devaluation of what was once a prestigious award.

The biggest joke of this year’s list is the award to Milkha Singh. The "Flying Sikh", it must be mentioned, was the first Indian to reach the final of an Olympic track event, the 400 metres. This was in Rome, 1960. He retired from the track after a highly successful venture in the Jakarta Asian Games of 1962. For some reasons he was not considered for the award which had then been newly instituted. Perhaps, those days the awards were restricted to just one in each sport and Gurbachan Singh, with more recent performances, had upstaged him. But what about the following years and the years when the life-time achievement business was started. And now, when his name has been replaced in the media by that of his son, Jeev in the golfing business, Milkha is suddenly remembered. Better late than never!

Milkha has been quite generous in his comments and has agreed to accept the award. It is the sportsman in him that has brushed aside all negative thoughts though he would be right in questioning first the delay in recognition and then the pertinence of clubbing him with Vijay Mal Bhanot, a shot putter of yesteryears, for years the national record holder, but somehow overlooked only to be placed in the same category as the great Milkha. The great Milkha’s comment on the award is worth repeating. "Is this mazaak or what? Arjuna Award is for the bachhas of today. If they wanted to honour me then they could have done that by giving me a Padma Vibhushana. I should have got this award 40 years ago." Going back to his heyday, Milkha reminds everyone that "I won the prestigious Helms Trophy in 1959 and was crowned as the best athlete in the world by the Duke of Edinburgh. I set unbreakable records, won 77 out of the 80 international races I participated in, won innumerable laurels for my country and what do I get in return? Just an Arjuna Award! Imagine legendary Dhyan Chand getting just an Arjuna Award for his life-time contribution in hockey?"

Here one would like to ask a very pertinent question from the Amateur Athletics Federation of India. A few years ago the Federation disowned responsibility for the Arjuna Awards and announced that it would not forward any names on its own. At the same time it asked the athletes to apply directly. All very well, these high moral principles. But surely the federation has not backtracked now? How come the names of Milkha, Vijay Mala Bhanot and Rachana Govil figure in the life-time contribution and on whose recommendations. Suresh Kalmadi and Lalit Bhanot, as President and secretary, respectively, cannot recommend anyone on personal basis. They have no standing as such. It only means that they have relented and have come back into the main stream. But then their choice of Rachna Govil, who has not even won a national mark in conventional event needs to be explained. In fact, while conceding that Mrs Bhanot, wife of Lalit Bhanot, has some credentials for an award (not a lifetime achievement by any means) and Rachna Govil (who appears to have no outstanding performance to her name) should be clubbed with Milkha Singh.. It is not fair to Milkha Singh, it is not fair to athletics, it is not fair to Arjuna Awards. In fact, Milkha has been devalued by this award and manner in which he has been clubbed with other names. In the process the award too has been rendered meaningless.

This year’s awards have once again brought to fore the inadequacies in the system . Unless that is changed the awards will become a national joke. The Sports Minister should recast the whole format, bring about a more transparent means of selecting the right people for these annual honours. The first thing to do is to ensure that only a medal winner in the Olympics, Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Asian and world championships should be given these awards. No one else should be considered. There should be no room for manipulation.

While on the awards and the need for honest evaluation, a thought should also be given to Dr Ashish Roy who has been fighting a battle all his own for over two decades. A former Air Force doctor, Ashish Roy took to running as a hobby when past 50. He was so taken up with the sport that it has become a passion with him now. He has run over marathons in various age groups, quite often winning in his category. He has spent his own money to run in these marathons. He is currently off to Moscow for another international event and from there he will go to Berlin for what he terms as his 53rd international marathon. He is 69 years old and seems to be getting younger by day. One cannot but be impressed with his enthusiasm. He more than anyone deserves an Arjuna Award. There cannot be a more genuine case than his.



More changes needed in BAI
K.R. Wadhwaney

PULLELA Gopichand of Andhra Pradesh is the second Indian to have claimed the All-England crown some months ago. The first was Karnataka’s Prakash Padukone many years ago.

Since that remarkable triumph, Gopichand has not been able to stay in top gear in the sphere of international razor-sharp competitions. He failed to make his presence felt in the subsequent two prestigious competitions — the World Cup andMalaysian Open. His display in stroke production and court generalship was not been in keeping with his high reputation that he had earned after claiming the All-England title.

Gopichand, modest, self-made and a dedicated player, said that he went down in the World Cup as a foot injury was bothering him a great deal. In the event of defeat in the Malaysian Open, he said that he could not plan his game and strategy owing to the new point system introduced by the International Badminton Federation (IBF).

Both reasons, advanced by Gopichand, did not convince his detractors and knowledgeable critics. They said that "One swallow does not make the summer". This may be a harsh criticism but he will have to prove that his head is not uneasy while wearing the prestigious All-England crown.

All Indians, Gopichand included, in sporting arenas, have two distinct personalities when engaged in international competitions. They are champions when the going is good. But when the road is hazardous, they crash without offering much resistance.

Except for sporadic and occasional individual achievements, India’s over all performance in team events, like Thomas Cup and Uber Cup, has been far from satisfactory in international badminton.

During the past five years, India’s top players have been skilful; their technique is governed on sound and scientific basis. But what they possess by way of art and science of badminton, they nullify it through lack of stamina and mental sharpness.

It is said — and perhaps rightly — by renowned exponents of badminton that Amrit Dewan in the 1950s, Suresh Goel in the 1960s and Syed Modi in the 1980s would have been undisputed kings had they had the physical excellence of champions. But unfortunately Dewan and Goel had marked tendencies of an undue doze of ‘socialism’, while Modi was rather casual in his all-important need of physical strength, stamina and sharpness.

Nandu Natekar, Dinesh Khanna (first champion of Asian badminton at Lucknow) and Prakash Padukone did make a mark in the international arena as they placed enough emphasis on physical fitness. They blended their physical attributes with their skill and ability to win laurels for themselves and their country.

There was a unique player in the name of Satish Bhatia in the late 1950s and early 1960s. His service was a ‘mystery’ to even world renowned opponents. He could discreetly break the ‘feathers’ of the shuttlecock and also broke the back of his opponents. He created most of his openings through services. He invariably won the first game but lost the next two because of lack of stamina.

Badminton looks so simple. But it is one of the toughest disciplines. It requires an abundance of stamina as the speed of the ‘bird’ varies enormously. A three-game closely congested encounter between two renowned international players requires staying ability of about 10 miles of running at a brisk pace.

Herein lies the difference between Indian players and foreign players from China, Indonesia, Denmark, Korea and Malaysia. The Indians are superior in technique but much inferior to foreign players in physical fitness. This stands between Indians and victory in international events.

In an international match, the foreign player’s strategy against an Indian star is simple and straight-forward. The foreigner plays at a rattling speed to win the match in straight games. But when he cannot, he wears down the Indian opponent to triumph in three games. In the final game, more often than not, the Indian star is gasping for breath.

Every player has to encounter many problems before reaching the pinnacle. In India, players suffer from both political and economic problems. The selection of players or teams is often questionable. In this country, the players are thrilled young instead of grooming them young. For decades, the Badminton Association of India (BAI) stayed imprisoned by the trio of Fazil Ahmed, S.R. Chadha and Ahmed Hussain. Fazil belonged to Gorahpur, Chadha (he died sometime ago) was from Jabalpur and Ahmed from Hyderabad. They did what they pleased. Prakash Padukone played a pivotal role in extricating the game out of the clutches of this trio.

Badminton in the country is now looking up. There are prize money tournaments and the players are provided enough exposure to play abroad. There is some system in selecting players to represent the country. The coach is not necessarily a public relations officer but a genuine trainer. What is most vital is that there has to be a psychologist, who can motivate players to rise to the occasion. The players will have to be taught to play to their potential under pressure. Any match in any international contest is not merely played by a foot and a hand but by the mind. The sharper the mind, the better will player perform.

There is an urgent need to bring about more changes in the BAI. The national body needs professionals to run the affairs of the associations and not officers who have little time for the federation.



Cricketers lack mental toughness
Sushil Kapoor

THE heroics of Virender Shewag, a leading member of the young brigade, who with his scintillating knock of an exact 100 in the typical mould of master blaster Sachin Tendulkar, helped raise the sagging spirits of the Indian cricket team and its staunch followers back home by delivering a knockout punch to the Black Cats and ensured a place in the final of the Coca Cola Cup and pose a formidable challenge to the rampaging Sri Lankan Tigers in their own den. All the avid watchers of the game were once again gearing themselves up for a coup of sorts after India’s complete turnabout from a hopeless position to post three victories on the trot in the league stage and set up a titanic title clash with Sri Lankans.

The cricket crazy fans had cancelled all their Sunday engagements to be near their TV sets to catch every bit of the action. Their expectations had been fuelled by the comments of Navjot Singh Sidhu, who though looked partisan at times, was the strongest India supporter in an alien land. His comments were the biggest pep-up that the Indian team could ever get.

But Sunday (August 5) turned into a painful and horrifying experience for the whole nation when our cricketing heroes once again produced a listless and spineless performance, culminating in an abject surrender. Those who watched the proceedings must have seen the entire nation’s agony writ large on the face of Navjot Singh Sidhu. One wonders if we can put down this Indian effort as a fair try and if not then how can we hope for success?

The critical analysis of the finals will clearly show that the Sri Lankans led by Sanath Jaisurya from the front totally outplayed the Indians, led by a disoriented Saurav Ganguly who could be seen angrily gesticulating to his team mates to the dismay of all those who watched this show of pathetic leadership. Not only did he lose the match hands down, his personal behaviour left much to be desired.

India’s performance in the Coca Cola Cup reduced it to a no-contest which left many cricket pundits lost for words to analyse this abject surrender of the young Indian team boasting of a number of batsmen who were capable of tearing any attack apart and the bowlers having the caliber to put the brakes on the rampaging opposing batsmen. But then all this brings us back to the often-repeated conclusion of wilting in the crunch situation and not playing as a team or to a tame plan.

The Indian team has got to take a leaf out of the Australian and South African books. A young side is supposed to give more than 100 per cent as they have so much to prove but in India’s case the Coca Cola a final threw up only Harbhajan Singh, the proven off-spinner, who applied some pressure on the Sri Lankan batsmen and earned their respect in return. It was pathetic to see India’s future hopes Yuvraj Singh and Reetinder Singh, Sodhi committing harakiri to some innocuous deliveries and letting the team down. The replays of their attempted shots will make it amply clear to them the lack of application on their part and the eventual damage to the team’s cause.

It is high time that each Indian player has a session of introspection and makes a self analysis of the quantum of the efforts put by him towards attaining of team’s goal. The acumen and art of the game is there with each player in abundance but it is the blending and gelling in the crunch situations as a team which is missing. It is the mental toughness and the mindset of the player which has to be addressed if the Indians have to make a mark as a strong team and not carry on as a bunch of brilliant individual performers who fall at the final hurdle.

The national pride has to find a place in the mindset alongwith the cricketing acumen to ensure more positive and consistent result.

Today all battles are fought in the mind and it is finally the triumph of mind over matter. It is hoped that the Indian team will be able to pull itself up and brace for the coming international encounters with a more positive frame of mind and the recent reversal in the Coca Cola Cup final is forgotten as a bad dream.



Betting a multi-crore business
Vimal Sumbly

THE cricket betting has become a multi-crore business in Punjab with Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Ferozepore and Chandigarh emerging as main centres. Different bookies like Raju and Ashok groups in Jalandhar, Nittu group in Chandigarh and the Pappu group in Ferozepore are said to be active for quite some time now. Although the betting has been going out for a long time, it had received severe setback after the allegations of match-fixing by players. A huge amount to the tune of Rs 100 crore is reported to have been transacted during the last triangular series played between India, Sri Lanka and New Zealand.

In order to escape detection the bookies have adopted different methods. Everything is done through mobile phones. Mobile phone is equipped with recording instruments and the entire transactions of the day are recorded. This is done to avoid any confusion as it usually happens that the punters (people who bet) argue that their bids have been placed on the wrong side. In such a situation the entire transactions are replayed to clear confusions. And the bookies ensure that the payments to the winning punters are delivered only the next day. Entire deal is made on trust.

The maximum amount is involved when a match takes a dramatic turn. For example, the first match between India and Sri Lanka, which the later won by a few runs only, generated enough business as the result kept swinging from one side to another. While the final played on Sunday between the same sides did not generate much business.

According to sources in the police, who has been closely monitoring the situation and has nabbed several punters, the betting network is too broad and extends right upto Dubai. The local bookies either do dealings with the bookies in Delhi or Mumbai who in turn are said to be linked to the bookies based in Dubai. The underworld don Dawood Ibrahim and his protege Chhota Shakeel are also believed to have major stakes in this growing business with each match generating crores of rupees. Recently, Chhota Shakeel had ordered stoppage of all payment to the punters as the bookie sponsored by him suffered losses. However, this is said to be an exceptional case and the punters, if they win, get the payment delivered at their home.

The rates for a particular match are settled in Mumbai or Dubai from where they travel to all the cities. For example, the rates for the final match between India and Sri Lanka were quoted at 50:54 in favour of Lanka. That means anyone who places Rs 100 for the Lankan team will get Rs 150 and whoever puts the bet for India will get Rs 200 for each Rs 100. The side that has better winning chances is quoted at the low rate.

These rates do not remain consistent all through the game and go on changing. Like in the final match with Sri Lankans starting as favourites at 50 came down to as low as Rs 10 (for each Rs 100 making a total of Rs 110) as Lankans were sure to win. The rates for the losing side also change in reverse proportions.

There are some smart punters, who place the bets on both the sides. It is not the end result of the match for which the bets are placed. Even for the toss and the team scores. And the score also in three stages. This is called session betting. In this the bets are placed for the score at 15 overs, 30 overs and 50 overs.

The number of punters in Ludhiana is already swelling with some leading businessmen getting addicted to it. Some of them are believed to have lost lakhs of rupees. And in the hope of return, they go on placing more and more bets. Some leading hosiery manufacturers and dealers figure in the list.

Interestingly, the local police has not been able to curb the betting in the city. It is learnt that the police had earlier acquired a list of 10 to 12 bookies last year and they were then warned to suspend their operations. Then the betting in the city was slightly hit for a while as the bookies began their operations from other cities. However, very soon the things began to improve for the punters after the initial public outcry died down.



Baljit Dhillon’s statement surprising

It is indeed difficult to understand the rationale behind the tall claims of Baljit Dhillon. India’s skipper at the hockey World Cup qualifying tournament. Every lover of hockey has heaved a sigh of relief after India just managed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup. Not to talk of teams of repute, even the non-hockey playing countries like Wales, Egypt and Japan have been able to beat us convincingly and repeatedly. And Baljit Dhillon said ‘‘we did not have much problem. It was easy for us’’. Frankly speaking it is absurd to expect some wonder from such a team which missed 14 penalty corners against Poland and failed to find a berth even in the semis. The irony is that we no longer play to win but to qualify.



Argentina beat Spain 5-4 in the final of the hockey World Cup qualifying tournament. India beat Japan in the last match to finish fifth and qualified for the World Cup. On returning home, Indian skipper Baljeet Dhillon said ‘‘we learnt a lot and are satisfied. Our sole aim was to qualify for the World Cup.’’ This is not at all a good statement. For the Sultan Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament, Mukesh Kumar was named captain. We are virtually out of this tournament. The Indians should not be satisfied with bottom positions. The coach of the team, Cedric D’Souza should be sacked without delay.

B.M. SINGH NARANG, Chandigarh


The performance of the Indian hockey team in the just concluded World Cup qualifying tournament in Scotland, can, at best, be described as mediocre as they were made to sweat it out to earn a berth in the 2002 Kuala Lumpur World Cup. India’s weakness in penalty corner conversion once again came to the fore as it failed to take advantage of 14 penalty corners against Poland. The quality of goal-keeping, too, could not, by any stretch of imagination, be called world class. With this level of performance we certainly cannot hope for any respectable position in the coming World Cup.

R.C. CHAND, Faridkot

Cricket defeat

The Indian cricket team lost to Sri Lanka in the triangular series at Colombo. It will not be fair to blame ground conditions and bowlers. The batsmen, right from the openers to the middle order, were seldom seen striking the ball with confidence. To be out cheaply and meekly is a matter of concern. On the other hand the Sri Lankans were superior in all departments of the game. Jayasuriya hit a captain’s knock of 99. The other batsmen, too, batted bravely and intelligently.