Saturday, November 24, 2001

Punjab’s rich legacy of sports
Prabhjot Singh

CHANDIGARH, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, once a part of Punjab, the sports arm of the country, are proud to have inherited some of the sports traditions of Punjab.

If Punjab boasts of good athletes, hockey, soccer and basketball players, Haryana's record in wrestling and volleyball is equally impressive. Chandigarh has been doing exceedingly well in individual sports, including athletics, badminton, shooting and tennis while Himachal has been chipping in with its contributions both in individual and team sports. Chandigarh, where there are specialised stadia for each sport, perhaps has perhaps one of the best sports infrastructure in the country .The city has an exclusive tennis stadium, a modern indoor sports complex for badminton and gymnastics, a football stadium, a hockey stadium, Lake Club for water sports, Athletic Centre for track and field events, a skating rink, a golf club, a golf range, a number of swimming pools, another multipurpose stadium in Sector 46 and perhaps the largest number of tennis courts in the country.


The infrastructure is further supplemented by good sports facilities at almost all educational institutions in the city. Golfer Chiranjeev Milkha Singh and shooter Abhinav Bindra are the brightest Chandigarh stars on the international scene.

When India recently won the Junior World Cup Hockey Tournament at Hobart in Australia last month, two players, Inderjit Chadha and Rajpal, and the Assistant coach of the team, Narinder Sodhi, were from Chandigarh. The only Indian umpire called for the Junior World Cup, Satinder Sharma, also belongs to the city.

Sukhbir Singh Gill is a member of the senior team. At the 2000 Olympic Games, both Sukhbir Gill and Devinder Kumar were members of the Indian team. Another Chandigarh boy who recently played for the Indian hockey team was Sarabjit Singh. Besides them, Gurdishpal Singh, Narinder Sodhi and Bimal have also played for India in international hockey competitions. Also settled in the city are veteran hockey stalwarts like Tarlochan Bawa, Dharam Singh and Sukhvir Grewal besides Balbir Singh Sr.

Chandigarh is now the home of Flying Sikh Milkha Singh, Nirmal Milkha Singh, Asian gold medallist Ajmer Singh, footballer Harjinder Singh, shuttler Satish Bhatia, hockey player Ajinder Kaur and one of the top sports organisers of the country, Inderjit Singh Bindra.

Not only at the senior level but also at the junior level, Shivalik Public School has done very well in hockey, wrestling and gymnastics, besides other sports, and has won medals for the country at some Asian-level tournaments.

In badminton, Chandigarh has the honour of producing national champion and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Kanwal Thakur Singh. Both Kanwal and her sister, Kiran, dominated the national badminton scene for a number of years.

In tennis Chandigarh has produced a Davis Cup-winner in Sunil Kumar, a national men's singles champion. Some of the top athletes produced by this Union Territory include sprinter Charanjit Bajwa and middle distance runner Sukhcharan Singh.To be honest, India's first-ever women's Asian Games gold medalist, Kamaljit Sandhu, also belongs to this city.

A look at the medals tally reveals that Chandigarh has emerged as a major sporting centre. It is sending a 280-member strong contingent for the coming National Games.

Himachal, a tiny hill state, has been making gradual progress in the sports arena. Some outstanding sportsmen and women of Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh, basically come from Himachal to join various sports institutions. The reason: the infrastructure available in their home state is inadequate and old fashioned.

For example, the top scorer in the recently concluded Junior World Cup, Deepak Thakur, belongs to Una but represents Punjab and Air India in national competitions. Before Deepak, the major hockey stalwart from Himachal was none other than Charanjit Singh, captain of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic gold medallist team. He retired as Director of Students Welfare of Himachal Pradesh University. Charanjit Singh has been one of the most outstanding centre half backs India has ever produced.

It is not only hockey that fascinates Himachalis. Suman Rawat has been a national heroine in long distance and marathon running.

Haryana, on the other hand, has done very well not only in wrestling, boxing, volleyball and hockey but also in certain field events, including pole vault and jumps. Shahbad Markanda, a small town on National Highway 1, has emerged as a hockey nursery which has made immense contributions to national teams, both men and women. No national women team has left the shores of the country in recent years without a Shahbad Markanda girl in it. Sandeep Kaur, Surinder Kaur and Sanjeev Kumar are some of the national stalwarts from Shahbad Markanda coached by a former junior national coach Baldev Singh.

Like Baldev Singh, another coach from Haryana who has done yeoman service to Indian sports is Surjit Singh, who has been credited with training national pole vault champions for not only years but decades together. In volleyball, Om Parkash and Dalel Singh have been the most prominent Haryanvis. Who has not heard of wrestler Satpal? Jai Bhagwan, Rohtas, Mahavir have been other outstanding wrestlers.

Geeta Zutshi, the Asian Games gold medallist, has undoubtedly been Haryana's sports queen. A world class middle distance runner, she not only won Asian Games gold medals but also represented the country in Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games.

The state has produced some top pole vaulters, long jumpers and high jumpers, including Om Parkash and Omvir Singh.