SPORTS TRIBUNE Saturday, August 18, 2001, Chandigarh, India
Athletes on the run — from uncaring nation
Abiodun Raufu
hen Nigeria held trials to pick athletes to represent the west Africa nation in one of the world’s most prestigious athletic events, two key competitors were conspicuously absent.

Where were the Indians?
Ramu Sharma
he World Athletics Championships which concluded in Edmonton on Sunday was an incident packed affair with some surprising results throwing up new faces even as few of the well worn were faced the reality of having to taste unexpected reverses. But  the show did make for a great competition, though punctuated with the usual drug-laced tales which carried their own message, giving a few twists and turns and some bitter personal experiences.

Playing cricket in USA
Preeti Lal Verma
or Hollywood star Robin Williams ‘‘cricket is like baseball played on valium.’’ If Williams, who has starred in blockbusters like ‘‘Mrs Doubtfire,’’ walks into Fremont, 40 miles from San Francisco that boasts of 20,742 Indian Americans, he would see many men addicted to the ‘‘valium’’ (clumsiness inducing drug) of the cricket-kind.

Rohtas deserved Arjuna Award
K.R. Wadhwaney
he exclusion of Rohtas Singh from the long list of Arjuna awardees this year also calls for scrutiny. It is a shocking tale of injustice done to the veteran golfer, whose contributor in the fast growing discipline is as enduring as any other sportsperson’s in any other discipline.

  • BCCI must discipline Ganguly

  • New faces

  • Paes-Bhupathi duo

  • Hockey showing

  • Kudos to Sachin



Athletes on the run — from uncaring nation
Abiodun Raufu

When Nigeria held trials to pick athletes to represent the west Africa nation in one of the world’s most prestigious athletic events, two key competitors were conspicuously absent.

Gloria Alozie, Nigeria’s foremost hurdler and silver medallist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and Francis Obikwelu, the nation’s 100 and 200 metres sprint champion, dumped Nigeria for their newly adopted countries mere weeks before the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) world championship in Edmonton, Canada.

Their departure is not unique among African athletes: Canadian immigration officials are sorting through the refugee claims of 106 athletes and artistes — mostly from Africa — who chose not to return home after the 10-day Francophone Games ended in Ottawa on July 24.

Both Obikwelu’s defection to Portugal and Alozie’s decision to acquire Spanish nationality have stunned Nigerians. They have also spurred some timely introspection.

Alozie was embittered by the shabby treatment of her late fiance, Hyginus, by Nigerian sports officials at the Sydney Olympics last year.

Hyginus, a sprinter who failed to make the Nigerian Olympic team, travelled with the squad to Sydeny to give Alozie moral support. But Nigerian officials did not allow him to stay with the contingent, infuriating Alozie and sparking a well-publicised row in the Nigerian press.

Hyginus was later killed in a hit-and-run road accident in Sydney and the initial reluctance of Nigerian officials to pay to fly his body back home further angered Alozie.

Despite her grief, she went on to win silver in the 110m hurdles. But by then, she had decided to abandon her country of birth.

On June 29 Alozie was granted Spanish citizenship and she jumped at the offer to run under Spain’s national colours.

Alozie’s decision — revealed a week later by sports officials — upset friends and stunned Nigerians.

“She was not made in Spain but here in Nigeria,” said Amelia Edet, chief coach with the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) and close friend. “Her exit is a challenge to us to work hard and produce another world-class athlete.”

Coach Gad Onumaegbu, who trained her for the Sydney Olympics, was more sympathetic. “Has she not tried for this country?” he said. “As a Nigerian, I feel bad about her decision. But what can I do? Nothing.”

The dust raised by Alozie’s defection had not quite settled when the report came of Obikwelu’s decision to run for Portugal.

The news was broken in July by Nigerian sprinter Mercy Nku, who like Obikwelu is based in Lisbon. She said Obikwelu took the decision because of neglect by Nigerian sports officials when he was injured while representing Nigeria in Sydney.

“Do you know that Francis Obikwelu was left alone to take care of the injury he sustained in the Sydney Olympics?” Nku said. “he had to go to Canada to undergo an operation on his knee spending his own money.”

Nku said she had also been invited to change nationality by a number of European countries and, she added, the incentives are tempting. “But I have made up my mind not to take off,” she promised. “I love Nigeria and will remain here.”

Yet Nku was quick to add that life is difficult for Nigerian athletes.

“We are most of the time neglected,” she said. “Some officials even claim that we make so much money and so do not need government assistance, which is really not true. Corporate bodies here do not in any way assist athletes, even with the abundance of talents.”

Nigerian long jumper Angus Bodunde agrees, but unlike Nku he would change citizenship if he had the chance.

“If I have the opportunity to travel out, I will grab it, and I will prefer the USA or Britain,” Bodunde said. “My first task, if I get to any of these two countries, will be to start the process of becoming a citizen.

“Nigeria as a country is killing sports,” he added. Some observers even blame President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration.

“Nigerian athletes are used to cash awards from government before, during and after major competitions,” said Funmi Erinle, editor of Sporting Tribune, a sports weekly newspaper based in Ibadan, Nigeria. But since 1999 when Olusegun Obasanjo became President, all that has stopped and the defections have simply increased.”

There have been defections earlier as well. Basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon took American citizenship in 1993 to represent the USA at the Olympics. He is now a star player in the National Basketball League (NBA), the top professional basketball league in North America.

David Dafiagbon, a promising Nigerian amateur boxer who won gold in the Commonwealth Games for Nigeria, changed nationality in 1995 to represent Canada at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, where he won a silver medal for his new country. In 1999, Nigerian wrestler Daniel Igali followed in Dafiagbon’s footsteps when he went on to win gold for Canada at the Sydney Olympics.

It was the same story for Emmanuel Olisadebe, a relatively unknown Nigerian footballer until he joined a club in Poland. He immediately became the toast of Polish soccer fans and was persuaded to play for the Polish national soccer team. He agreed and was granted Polish citizenship. Today, Olisadebe’s crucial goals are the main reason why Poland is likely to qualify for the 2002 World Cup.

Adeniyi Adesina, a sports writer with The Punch newspaper in Lagos, blames the defections on “lack of policy on how to take care of the athletes’ future even when they are poorly compensated while still active”.

“Nigerian sports are still not run transparently,” he said. “It is full of policy somersaults as a result of lack of focus on how to manage and reward performance and to develop sports.”

Former AFN President Oluyomi Adeyemi-Wilson said one of the means of stemming the exodus is to offer welfare packages to athletes.

“When athletes are assured of a brighter future,” he said, “they will not run away.” — Gemini News


Where were the Indians?
Ramu Sharma

The World Athletics Championships which concluded in Edmonton on Sunday was an incident packed affair with some surprising results throwing up new faces even as few of the well worn were faced the reality of having to taste unexpected reverses. But  the show did make for a great competition, though punctuated with the usual drug-laced tales which carried their own message, giving a few twists and turns and some bitter personal experiences.

For Marion Jones, the undisputed queen of the short sprint till the beginning of the competition, it was a body blow as she had to settle for a second spot in her favourite event, beaten by Ukrainian Zhanna Pintusevich-Block. And it was not the first time that the Ukranian beat her that day. She had first beaten Jones in the semi-final and then went on to confirmed her superiority over the undisputed champion of four years in the final, held after a gap of little over 100 minutes. Marion however came back strongly to win the 200 metres and then added another gold with the relay team.

There was also the dethroning of distance king of neatly eight years standing, Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia in his own favourite event, the 10,000 metres, He was laid low by a 23-year- old Kenyan, Charles Kamathi in one of the most prized races of the competition. It was a feat which many had hope to achieve since 1993 but achieved only by Charles Kamathi. Gebrselassie was not even allowed the compensation of a silver medal. That went to fell on Ethiopian Azzefa Mezgebu. The hitherto unbeaten champion had to be content with a bronze. Another Ethiopian giant to fall was Million Wolde, also humbled by a Kenyan, Richard Limo in the 5000 metres. Wolde who was the Olympic champion in the event had to be content with the third spot.

These and other such deeds all made for a wonderful championship. There were some minor hiccups but it was the drug-related instance that captured the limelight. Olga Yegorova of Russia was not the most popular of winners after she had outpaced  a strong field to win the women’s 5000 metres. The Russian had been subjected to a dope test and had been cleared by the IAAF because of procedural mistakes in the EOP testing done by the French at the Paris Golden League competition in July. The Federation’s stand lacked conviction and not all the athletes running with the Russian girl were convinced.

Well there were the ups and downs and thrills in plenty. One of the more telling points was the showing of the Russians who notwithstanding the controversy surrounding Olga Yegorova came up with some very telling performances. For a country which had once ruled the track and field world as a part of the Soviet Union and had since then gone through some very trying times, it was a great comeback. The Russians had three gold medals less than the leaders, the U.S. but tied with the champion country in terms of the total number of medals. Both countries collected 19.

A delightful note was struck in the competition when the Dominican Republic celebrated the nation’s first gold medal when Felix Sanches won the 400 metres. It was the first medal of any kind in the world for the Caribbean nation, a dot in the world map. And while on Dominican Republic it is pertinent dwell on India which occupies a substantial portion of the map and sports the second largest population after China. India too were represented at the World Championships but failed to make an impression. So what else is new?

No one really expected the men and women to win a medal at this level of competition. All that was hoped for was a repeat of their best at home or at most an improvement on the performances recorded, performances which earned them the right to participate with the best of the world.

The Indians fielded a small team but the offering was even less than negligible. Though K.M. Beenalmol did as well as expected and managed to get into the semi-final grade the others failed even by their own standards, standards which they have been measured with. It is  now quite pointless arguing whether there is any use sending athletes to competitions such as the World Athletics Championships? Irrespective of the returns Indians do go and participate and nearly always perform badly, and once back home they prepare again to venture forth and take part in another major competition. They believe in the now age-worn adage that participation is more important than winning. They just participate.

Let us see how they performed at Edmonton. Sanjay Kumar Rai has on record three jumps over 8 metres in the long jump. That is his record at home. What does he do at Edmonton? He reportedly cleared 7.12 and 7.24 in his two legal jump, an effort which left him 13th out of a field of 14 in his group. He finished an overall 26th out of 27 competitors in the field.

Next we observe Neelam J.Singh, reputedly one of the top disc throwers in Asia with a personal best of 63.02 metres to her credit. With such a background and the hype her consistency had generated at home she should have gone over this mark or at least repeated it so that she could have competed in the final. That would have been a great achievement. But in actual fact the maximum she reached with the disc was 56.52 metres which placed her 19th out of 22 competitors.

There has to be some explanation for this below par performances. Either there is something blatantly wrong with our officials who measure the performances of these athletes at home or perhaps there is something which gives these athletes extraordinary strength during competitions at home, that something extraordinary which suddenly evaporates the minute the athletes leave the home ambience.

A lot of noise has been made over this issue of non-performance by our men and women in competitions abroad in the last decade or so. No one has so far come with any answers. No one is even willing to go into the issue. It is time that the  Amateur Athletics Federation of India comes up with some acceptable answers. Otherwise they should stop sending these failed athletes to competitions at the level of the World Championships.


Playing cricket in USA
Preeti Lal Verma

For Hollywood star Robin Williams ‘‘cricket is like baseball played on valium.’’

If Williams, who has starred in blockbusters like ‘‘Mrs Doubtfire,’’ walks into Fremont, 40 miles from San Francisco that boasts of 20,742 Indian Americans, he would see many men addicted to the ‘‘valium’’ (clumsiness inducing drug) of the cricket-kind.

Each weekend, men in flannels hit the ball on wickets of varied hues. There are no proper fields, instead matting on rolled and cut turf is the most popular wicket. Other clubs have Astroturf on clay, matting on clay, matting on cement, Astroturf on asphalt and there is even a ‘‘turf’’ wicket.

But cries of ‘‘Howzzat!’’ are everywhere.

It is not just the matting that is different, even the teams sport fascinating names — Bhola XI and Baslog, short for Bay Area Sloggers, and the Valley Cricketers.

All of them are affiliated to the Northern California Cricket Association (NCCA), which boasts of 30 teams from 20 clubs. Approximately 700 people participate in the NCCA with teams playing weekly matches against each other.

‘‘Cricket is really catching on in this part of Northern California,’’ said Shyam Ramchandran, captain of the Fremont cricket team.

The NCCA consists of two leagues. The league season is a round-robin style competition where each team plays 16 games, and the team with the most points at the end is the winner. This season lasts from April to late September.

With the Indian American population increasing in California's Bay area, so is the cricket playing community. ‘‘We're trying to make it a fundamental part of education in the USA,’’ says Malcolm Nash, a former professional cricketer who is now the Northern California Cricket Association's roving school cricket coach. ‘‘We want this to be bigger than soccer.’’

Nash (53) from Glamorgan county in Wales, coaches cricket at 10 schools in Los Angeles, where he lives, and then flies to the Bay Area on Thursdays and Fridays to teach the game to elementary school children at St. Patrick's in Larkspur, St. Rita's in Fairfax and Neil Cummins School in Corte Madera.

More than 600 students in the Bay area and 1,000 children in the Los Angeles area have taken to cricket. The NCCA started the schools cricket programme in January, 1999, and currently six schools across the Bay area are enrolled in it.

Coaches employed by the association coach elementary school children the art of playing cricket. Currently, about 1,500 children are playing the game as part of the physical education class.

Hemant Gandhi, CEO of Challenger Systems that had sponsored a youth XI cricket tournament comprising youngsters in the age group of 13to 19 years in 2000, says: ‘‘The future of cricket in the USA depends on how well we nurture and coach the youth here.’’

At times, players don the pads as good Samaritans — Baslog raised $ 7,500 during a mini tournament fundraiser for the January Gujarat quake victims. The media is also taking notice of a game that still arouses a lot of curiosity and sniggers from die-hard baseball fans.

Contrary to common perception, cricket did not catch on in the USA after Indians swooped down the valley during the Silicon boom.

The first cricket clubs in the USA were established in the 1700s, not long after they made their appearance in England. It was very popular till the early 1800s when baseball, said to be a progeny of cricket, almost obliterated it.

The first international cricket match was played between Canada and the USA in 1844. America's first President George Washington evidently played cricket, and statesman and inventor Benjamin Franklin was a documented fan.

There are 374 paid up cricket clubs in the USA, a number of them flaunting names like Hyderabad Dream Cricket Club, Pak Gymkhana Cricket Club, Bangladesh CC of Houston, Sachin CC, Lanka CC, Hello Pakistan CC and Desi CC.

According to last year's count, there are nearly 10,000 registered players in the USA, one fourth of which play in the New York, New Jersey area.

So if Robin Williams pans through the nation he would see many more ‘‘on valium’’ than during his visit to the Lord's in England for the first time that had triggered the comment ‘‘Howzzat!’’ IANS


Rohtas deserved Arjuna Award
K.R. Wadhwaney

The exclusion of Rohtas Singh from the long list of Arjuna awardees this year also calls for scrutiny. It is a shocking tale of injustice done to the veteran golfer, whose contributor in the fast growing discipline is as enduring as any other sportsperson’s in any other discipline.

The omission of Rohtas Singh conclusively proves that the selectors and the powers that-be at the helm of the award are wearing thick-glass scales, which have totally blinded them.

The entire set-up needs to be revamped as the Arjuna Awardees Association (AAA), managed and controlled by Bishan Singh Bedi, Randhir Singh and Balbir Singh Bhatia (weightlifting), has become defunct. The AAA has not had an election meeting for more than 12 years.

The major blame in Rohtas Singh’s exclusion lies with the selectors, ministry and SAI officials for the ignorance. They are indeed ill-informed. But the officials of the Indian Golf Union (IGU), Professional Golfers Association of India (PGAI) and Delhi Golf Club (DGC) cannot be absolved because it is they who should have fought for Rohtas Singh’s genuine claims. He has no godfather or Godmother to plead for his achievements.

A mere letter from IGU official P.K. Bhattacharya has not helped the cause of Rohtas Singh, who is more disappointed than pained. It is high and mighty, who should make out a case for Rohtas Singh. He is a noble soul of Indian golf.

To refresh the memory of those who have been connected with this award, which has lost its glitter, Rohtas Singh (42), has been country’s top golfer for the last 28 years. Champion of the Order of Merit on the Indian Tour for 10 years, he has claimed more than 100 competitions. He has risen from the rank of caddy to the high professional circuit. Apart from his playing ability and skill, he has groomed many youngsters. He is more a Dronacharya than many other Tom, Dick and Harry, who have been bestowed Arjuna and Dronacharya awards.

Season begins

Rahil Gangjee and Sheeraz Kalra have turned pros. They have made a debut in the Indian circuit with the Hindu Open. It is going from strength to strength. Chennai is an outstanding sporting centre to make a debut. But the pro circuit is a hazardous and tough area where only the fittest can survive and prosper. Here mental faculties are more important than mere skill and ability.

The Indian tour is now sponsored by Hero Honda whose chief is a golf addict. Himself a player of no mean ability, he is also the President of the PGAI. Pros can have a field-day because he is ever ready to help promising players with adequate assistance.

Tiger Sports is effectively combining with the PGAI. If the newspapers are filled with golf news from here and there, it is because of Tiger Sports.

Tiger Sports should now publish an annual book on the lines of Indian Cricket, produced by the Hindu. The book will be a ready-recknor for golfers and others. Maybe, chapters on amateur golf and ladies golf are added. It can be a revenue-making publication, which can also highlight the performance of Indians playing in the international circuit. Such a publication will bring into focus top golfers of the country. It will also help make selectors wiser on golf, which is as tough a discipline as cricket or hockey. 


BCCI must discipline Ganguly

Indian cricket captain Saurav Ganguly was first awarded a one-match suspension and then was fined 75 per cent of his match fee. I think he should show the tiger-like instinct in his stroke play and not against the umpires and players of the opposition. If we go back to the recently concluded Test series between India and Australia the match referee warned him for being late at the time of toss. The visiting team captain had to wait for 15-20 minutes before his Indian counterpart arrived. Indian captains in the recent past like Azharuddin and Tendulkar have been very good ambassadors. In my view the Indian captain should be seriously dealt with by the BCCI.


New faces

The miserable defeat of the Indian cricket team in the final against Sri Lanka in the Coca Cola triangular series on August 5 undoubtedly points towards lack of foresight on the part of the selectors. So many new faces were inducted into the team due to which the balance was upset. Players like Yuvraj Singh, Badani and Reetinder Sodhi have still miles to cover to be successful at the international level. A lot of maturity is expected of a player during such events which, unfortunately, the freshers lacked. None of them could fill the void created by players like Navjot Sidhu, Ajay Jadeja and Mohammed Azharuddin.


Paes-Bhupathi duo

The steep fall in standards of Indian hockey, a string of reverses in the recent world championship in athletics at Edmonton and lacklustre performance by our cricket team cast a pall of gloom on Indian sports, but by clinching the masters title in the doubles final of the Cincinnati tournament at Mason, the Indian ace tennis duo of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have provided the proverbial silver lining. This was their fourth title win of the year. The pair of Paes and Bhupathi showed us how to emerge successful in tight situations.


Hockey showing

After putting up a rank bad performance in the World Cup Hockey Qualifying Tournament at Edinburgh, India have given yet another pathetic display in the Sultan Azlan Shah Hockey Tournament at Kuala Lumpur. India were mauled by their rivals in almost all encounters. Our opponents converted even half chances into goals whereas India gifted away good chances on a platter. The Indians lacked speed, stamina, and killer instinct and didn’t have the agility to run back to defend their citadel. The IHF’s decision not to select Dhanraj Pillay for the Azlan Shah tournament added to the woes of India. Pillay is a player who has the ability to change the complexion of any game with his electrifying runs, dribbling, ball control and goal scoring prowess. Will the IHF bosses learn a lesson?


Kudos to Sachin

Congratulations to Sachin Tendulkar for his inclusion in Sir Donald Bradman’s World XI. This great honour is not only for Sachin but also for all Indians as he is the only player from the Indian subcontinent to find a place in the dream team of Bradman. I wish his toe injury heals quickly and he joins the team soon.