SPORTS TRIBUNE Saturday, September 15, 2001, Chandigarh, India

Pride and prejudice still colour sports
Mohammed Allie
he prestigious cricket World Cup is still 20 months away. But trouble is already brewing over it in South Africa, the nation that will host the tournament.

Williams sisters rule the courts
Larry Fine
leyton Hewitt claimed another title for the younger set, while the Williams sisters served notice at the US open that their brand of power tennis rules the women’s game.

Chopra set to take Premiership by storm
Daniel Campbell
s a footballer, Michael Chopra has the world at his feet. The 17-year-old scores goals for fun, has been dubbed the new Michael Owen and has already grabbed the winner for England at Wembley.

IGU must concentrate on kids
K. R. Wadhwaney
any talented youngsters were on view in the All-India Inter-School Golf Championship, which concluded at the Delhi Golf Club (DGC) course on Friday. It was sheer delight to watch tiny tots swing different clubs with precision and also in style. They were careful about their swing and follow-through. This spoke well of them.



Pride and prejudice still colour sports
Mohammed Allie

The prestigious cricket World Cup is still 20 months away. But trouble is already brewing over it in South Africa, the nation that will host the tournament.

In October the Indian cricket team is due to play in South Africa, but the tour might be marred if threats to demonstrate at the matches go ahead. The threats come from the newly-formed Chatsworth Action Committee (CAC) which accuses South Africa’s cricket supremo Ali Bacher of breaking a promise held out nearly three years ago.

During the West Indies tour of South Africa in 1998, Bacher said on national television that the predominantly Indian area of Chatsworth in Durban would host at least one World Cup match. Two weeks ago, however, Bacher backtracked, saying that only grounds of international standard would be used for World Cup matches.

The Indian Ocean city of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal area has a large population of ethnic Indians, though they account for less than 3 per cent of South African’s total population of around 40 million.

The current row highlights a wide gulf that still marks the sporting fraternity in South Africa — between the formerly advantaged and disadvantaged sectors.

Sports Minister Ngconde Balfour is concerned about the slow pace of transformation in South African sport and the continued lack of black faces in representative teams.

"I am going to be uncompromising in the year ahead to ensure that sport serves as an agent for charge in South Africa," he told Parliament during his budget speech at the end of May.

"At one stage sport was a leading protagonist for change in this country. I am sorry to say we have lost that advantage but I’m committed to turning that around."

The KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union, under whose jurisdiction Chatsworth falls, expressed its support for the Chatsworth Oval as a 2003 World Cup venue. KZNCU Chief Executive Officer Cassim Docrat said his union understands the frustrations of the CAC.

"Chatsworth has a very strong cricketing community and, having had international matches there before, you can understand that they are desperate for a World Cup match too," Docrat said. "The ground needs redevelopment to get it up to international standard, but it’s also too good to be limited to just club use."

While it is true that no Test matches have been played at this ground, international cricket teams have played here. In 1997 the visiting Indian team played a warm-up match at the Chatsworth Oval.

While the architect in charge of evaluating World Cup venues believes upgrading the Chatsworth Oval will cost between 10 to 15 million rands the KZNCU’s evaluators believe a modest 2.5 million rands will suffice.

Modest county grounds like Northampton, Chelmsford and Canterbury were used during the 1999 World Cup in England. The Chatsworth Oval should, with some upgrading, be quite capable of hosting early qualifying round World Cup matches.

"The irony is that we always seem to want to go one better than others even though we are in Africa," says Dr Ashwin Desai, a member of the United Cricket Board of South Africa’s Transformation Monitoring Committee.

It was set up three years ago to monitor closely the pace of all-round change in South African cricket. Desai also castigated the planned two-hour opening ceremony.

"Why should they want to spend around 15 million rands on the opening ceremony when a large portion of that money could have been used to upgrade facilities in the townships. That legacy would be more lasting than trying to impress the world with an opening extravaganza."

By contrast, the 1999 ceremony at Lord’s, the headquarters of world cricket, was simple — a few speeches and the parading of the flags of the 12 participating countries.

The controversy has led to a re-think and now all participating teams at the World Cup will play at least two warm-up games in formerly disadvantaged areas.

But a more widespread change is very slow in coming. For instance, though South African coaches had a gentlemen’s agreement to include at least two black players in their teams competing in the recently held Super Twelve rugby tournament against provincial teams from Australia and New Zealand, this was not stuck to. Naturally many eyebrows were raised.

In defence the coaches argued that the players were either not match-fit or they did not fit into their teams’ plans. Last year’s local provincial competition saw the bizarre situation of coaches instructing black players to feign injury so that they could be replaced.

Situations like these have irked Balfour intensely.

"I will no longer tolerate a situation in which conformity to only the minimum representivity conditions becomes the norm. The practice of replacing a black player with another black player to meet these minimum criteria cannot be allowed to continue as standard practice," he said.

To give blacks a chance of playing at the highest level the Sports Ministry, in tandem with the various sports federations, has agreed to introduce quotas. It was the pressure of this quota system that gave opening batsman Herschelle Gibbs the opportunity to resurrect his international career when he was selected to play against the touring West Indian side in 1988.

"Targets will have to be set to ensure we proceed rapidly toward our goal of total representivity in line with the demographics of our country," said Balfour. The challenge is formidable.

Given the massive economic disparities between black and white caused by the previous apartheid system, it would be difficult to get significant numbers of blacks involved in elitist sports like sailing, canoeing and equestrian events, among others.

Also, the foundations for most sporting activity in South Africa start at school and when many black schools lack basic infrastructure like classrooms, electricity and running water, providing sporting facilities is not the priority.

All of which mean that young black sportsmen and women, with the exception of the very talented ones, will continue to face an uphill struggle to develop their potential.

— Gemini News


Williams sisters rule the courts
Larry Fine

Lleyton Hewitt claimed another title for the younger set, while the Williams sisters served notice at the US open that their brand of power tennis rules the women’s game.

The 20-year-old Australian took his turn to make Pete Sampras look like a name from the past by blasting the four-times champion 7-6 6-1 6-1 in the worst pasting in an Open men’s final for ten years.

The brash fourth seed who has the mental toughness and self belief to take on anyone, anywhere, as he has proved on the road for Australia in the Davis Cup, became the youngest player to win the US title since Sampras himself burst on the scene in 1990.

Unlike the prototype tennis champions from Australia, the slightly-built son of a former Aussie Rules football player does not rely on serve and volley and reminded Sampras of go-getter Michael Chang, only better.

Hewitt’s precision demolition of Sampras for his first major title was built on brilliant return of serve and baseline ground strokes that sizzled past the 30-year-old winner of a career record 13 Grand Slams from all angles.

Last year, 20-year-old Marat Safin of Russia used his big-time power game to dismiss Sampras with startling ease in the Open final.

Prior to that defeat, Sampras had lost only twice in 15 Grand Slam finals. Hewitt’s triumph put an end to Sampras’s streak of eight years in a row with at least one major crown and extended his tournament title drought to 18.

Hewitt punctured what loomed as a dream run for another Slam by Sampras, who had powered his way through one of the toughest draws in memory, eliminating the winners of the last four Opens — Patrick Rafter (1997/98), Andre Agassi (1999) and Safin (2000) —on his way to the final.

The recently married Sampras and the 31-year-old Agassi, whose soon-to-be bride Steffi Graf is expecting their first child, are approaching crossroads in their lives.

But the long-time rivals did not exit the Grand Slam stage in the 2001 season without leaving one more indelible memory.

The match-up of the aged produced a match for the ages, as their quarter-final clash produced a Grand Slam classic, with Sampras prevailing after four tiebreak sets played without a single service break at the height of virtuosity.

The leading lights on the women’s side — sisters Venus and Serena Williams — were hard-pressed to match that performance, despite a historical confrontation in the championship match.

Defending champion Venus (21) and 10th seed Serena, the 1999 Open winner, brushed aside the competition to set up the first all African-American final in Grand Slam history and the first major title match between sisters in 117 years.

The unprecedented night final at Arthur Ashe stadium had a buzz of anticipation worthy of Madison Square Garden hosting a heavyweight title fight, but it failed to deliver family feud fireworks and in the end was more of a Williams-style love-in.

"We both went out there competing, trying to win this tournament," Venus said after thumping little sister Serena 6-2 6-4.

"Hopefully, there will be better matches. I mean, after that Andre and Pete match, no one can live up to that again in this tournament — maybe not ever."

Many observers wondered whether the Williams sisters would ever be able to drop the gloves and really go at it, in a no holds barred battle on the court, given their closeness.

However, both Williams sisters made it clear they were fed up with their rankings, a result of playing a limited schedule on the WTA Tour.

Fourth-ranked Venus said she planned to skip her autumn semester at design school and play more tournaments. Serena (19) who came to the Open ranked 10th, said she thought it was time for her to move up to a new level and focus more on the sport.

Venus played 11 tournaments coming into the Open, and Serena just eight and were the two players with the lightest schedule among the top 50-ranked women’s players.

The subject of rankings rankled many who wondered how Martina Hingis, blown of the court by Serena Williams in the semifinals, could retain her world number one rating without a Grand Slam win in more than two years and without a tournament title since winning twice in February.

Hingis, who has now gone 11 Slams without victory since taking the 1999 Australian Open, looks hopelessly overmatched against the power of the Williams sisters and other big women’s hitters who feast on her lollypop serves.

Players were seeded down to 32 instead of the customary 16 at the Open, which seemed to make the already predictable first week of women’s action even more of a foregone conclusion. Reuters


Chopra set to take Premiership by storm
Daniel Campbell

As a footballer, Michael Chopra has the world at his feet. The 17-year-old scores goals for fun, has been dubbed the new Michael Owen and has already grabbed the winner for England at Wembley.

Now the half-Indian, half-English striker with a Geordie accent is set to become the first home-grown player from an Asian background to play in the Premiership. Football experts believe he is destined for great things.

He has set soccer’s rumour mill buzzing with a string of goal-studded performances for Newcastle United and England’s youth sides. England legend Peter Beardsley, his coach at the club, reckons he is potentially a better player than his hero, Alan Shearer, who scored 30 times for England.

Premiership defences will soon have to cope with the skill of a player who regularly scores hat-tricks and has notched up 12 goals in 23 appearances for English schoolboy sides.

Chopra’s debut for Newcastle’s first team will be a significant moment in the history of multicultural Britain. Despite the huge numbers of Asian youngsters who play the game, none has ever made it as a professional footballer. Now the son of an Indian newsagent in Gateshead is poised to make the sort of breakthrough on behalf of British Asians that Cyrille Regis and Viv Anderson did for British-born black people a generation ago.

"There’s pressure on me to become a really good footballer and extra pressure from family, friends and the Asian community for me to be the first Asian player to break through," said Chopra.

His ambitions are bold: to win the Premiership with the club he has supported since his father took him to St James’s Park as a six-year-old, and to lift the World Cup while wearing the three lions of England on his shirt.

Les Reed, the Football Association’s director of technical development, believes he could do both. "He’s a natural goalscorer with, great technique, superb balance and two good feet, and he’s lethal in the six-yard box. The way he dribbles the ball and gets behind defenders reminds me of Michael Owen."

Chopra is represented by SFX, the agency that looks after Owen, Shearer and David Beckham. If he fulfils expectations, the money he already earns from wearing Adidas clothes will seem small change beside lucrative marketing and sponsorship deals.

The Geordie teenager is the brightest prospect among a number of up-and-coming British Asian players. At West Ham, strapping centre-half Anwar Uddin is making a name for himself in the reserve team and disproving the notion that Asians are too weak to make the grade. At Leeds United, the top scorer for the under-19 team last season was Pudsey-born left-winger Harpal Singh, whose parents came here from India in the Seventies.

"Asian kids love football yet there’s no Asian star they can idolise, watch on television or have as the name on the back of their shirt," said Singh, 19. "Whoever is the first home-grown Asian to make it will be massive."

There are 70 British Asian youngsters aged 14 and above attached to the academies that league clubs use to nurture their stars of the future. Two of them, Zesh Rehman of Fulham and Kalam Mooniariuk of Manchester United, have already played alongside Chopra for the England under-18s.

But some believe Asian players are not getting a fair chance. "It’s encouraging that there are 70 at academies, but the fact that there are very few who get a contract when they turn 16 is a concern," said Piara Power of ‘Kick Racism out of Football.’ "That’s partly because football is competitive, but also because some hard-bitten, old-style coaches still have stereotypical attitudes about Asians, like they’re not physically suited to the rough and tumble of the British game."

— By arrangement with The Guardian

IGU must concentrate on kids
K. R. Wadhwaney

Many talented youngsters were on view in the All-India Inter-School Golf Championship, which concluded at the Delhi Golf Club (DGC) course on Friday. It was sheer delight to watch tiny tots swing different clubs with precision and also in style. They were careful about their swing and follow-through. This spoke well of them.

What was satisfying was that the response from schools from Delhi, Kolkata and other centres was healthy. There was rivalry among schools and it was not a cake-walk for any particular school to romp home.

The Indian Golf Union (IGU) should concentrated on providing additional facilities to school kids. The better the performance of kids, the better will be the general standard of golf in the country.

There was time when India used to get invitation for participation from the British Schools Golf Foundation. Now India is not invited and some promising youngsters are deprived of the exposure needed by them.

The amateur golf and golfers have to have better deal from the IGU. The better the standard of amateur golfers, the better will be the quality of professional golfers. The IGU is a senior body and it should take a leaf out of the Professional Golfers Association of India (PGAI) which, along with Tiger Sports Management, is doing a great deal for the promotion of golf in the country.

At the start of the Chennai tournament, Bunty Randhawa’s erratic drive hit Shiv Prakash on his head. Luckily and only luckily, the injury did not prove serious though he was bleeding profusely. He was taken to hospital where he was administered a few stitches before he was discharged. The injury did not bother the pro, who played consistently in the competition.

The scene of pro golf has shifted from south to north where a tournament will be held in Srinagar from October 4. Royal Springs, an 18-hole course, is the venue. According to Brandon De Souza the course is a beauty of the golf links and it will provide immense joy to all those who play there.

The pros participating in the tournament will assemble at Jammu before they are transported to Srinagar under adequate security cover. The Chief Minister, Mr Farooq Abdullah, who plays a round of golf as often as he can, says that he will see to it that the participants have the best of everything on and off the course in Srinagar. All is peaceful in Srinagar. De Souza, livewire of Tiger Sports, endorses the Chief Minister’s observation. "I have been there three-four times during the past two months and I find all is moving smoothly in Srinagar", says De Souza.


Retention of Ganguly surprising

It is difficult to believe that Saurav Ganguly has been retained as captain of the Indian cricket team for the tour of South Africa. This is strange because a player who does not deserve a place in the squad has been made captain. Looking back at his performance with the bat it is clear that he has had a disastrous home series against Australia and on the tours of Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka. The supportive statement by the selection committee headed by chairman Chandu Borde that Ganguly has a good record as captain is nonsense.



After losses in the triangular series and Test series in Sri Lanka, speculation regarding change of the Indian captain started which was unfortunate. Whenever our cricket team wings a match expectations are raised and by losing another game the team is condemned. Indian captain Saurav Ganguly is unnecessarily being blamed for failure of the team. By changing captains, one cannot expect miracles. The BCCI must give time to the captain and players to settle down.


Kudos to Lanka

Congratulations to the Sri Lankan cricket team for winning the third and final Test convincingly and wrapping up the series 2-1. Throughout the match, Sri Lanka played a professional game. India’s star batsmen should take a lesson or two from our tailenders like Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh. The coach of our cricket team John Wright has failed to deliver the goods. Until fighting spirit is inculcated in the team, more and more defeats appear imminent.


Forgotten hero

We should be grateful to Milkha Singh for bringing the plight of his ex-colleague Daljit Singh to our notice. I remember Daljit running alongside Milkha in the National Games held at Patiala in 1956. Later I had the pleasure of serving with Daljit as we are from the same regiment, the Sikh Regiment, known for its hockey team and athletes in the sixties. The gracious act of Milkha Singh to have opened an account for the treatment of his old friend is praiseworthy. Daljit, who ran with his sturdy legs to bring honour and glory to the nation, is a forgotten hero who is seeking financial help from an ungrateful nation to be able to walk properly.