|SPORTS TRIBUNE||Saturday, March 2, 2002, Chandigarh, India|
in a mind game
Kenyans rally to keep car race on track
THERE are only two reasons ordinary Kenyans will line up along dusty village roads: when the President happens to be passing their way in his motorcade, and when they are watching rally cars roar past.
Of all 14 rounds of the World Rally Championship (WRC), Kenya’s Safari Rally is the most exotic — a fact that WRC officials and top rally drivers readily admit.
"It is a unique event with so many variables. You can’t be sure of winning," says Colin McRae, who won the Safari Rally in 1997 and 1999.
For Rudi Stohl, a leading European entrant who has participated in the race 19 times, the Safari Rally in one of his all-time favourites. "I may be semi-retired but I find it hard to sit on the sidelines," he says. "The Safari tests man and machine’s endurance."
But despite being considered the toughest in the WRC calendar the Safari Rally is under intense heat to get off the circuit — sparking a huge row between WRC officials and African rally drivers.
Officials say this year’s Kenyan race — scheduled for July 11 to 14 — could be the last because of issues such as who should pay for the event and what to do about wild animals that sometimes stray on to the route of the cars.
"If Safari is dropped from the WRC series that will be the end of our careers," says John Ngunjiri, the spokesman of the Kenya rally drivers who participate in the event. "It will be a blow to Africa and we will be forced to look elsewhere for exposure."
Started in 1953 by enthusiasts in colonial East Africa to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the Safari is now one of the oldest WRC events.
"The Safari Rally is a name that evokes a mystical and magical fascination in the sporting world," a WRC brochure boasts. "Open roads, wildlife, heat, dust and glorious mud all play their part in building up what is the toughest and most exciting event in the World Rally calendar."
In this East African nation of 32 million people, the Safari Rally is an annual craze when all work is abandoned along rally routes as villagers line up to lustily cheer their favourite drivers, National broadcaster Kenya Broadcasting Corporation keeps an eager nation informed on the rally’s progress with some coverage from different sections.
The International Sportsworld Communication (ISC), the commercial arm of the International Automobile Federation (FIA), is demanding certain guarantees from the Kenyan Government — otherwise it has threatened to scrap the African event. The demands include an assurance from the government that it will financially support the rally.
But Kenya has no such money. "The only assistance we can offer is deployment of police officers along rally routes, military surveillance helicopters and an import duty waiver for rally drivers," Sports Minister Francis Nyenze says.
During the last rally the ISC had to shell out 7.8 million Kenya shillings ($ 100,000) to bail out the event.
"Also we think the organisers are not serious about the safety of the drivers. We are concerned about the presence of wild and domestic animals along the rally routes," ISC President Dave Richards says.
Last year some drivers complained that they risked their lives after being forced to drive through a 100-km section without the guidance of helicopters, which had been grounded due to bad weather.
Locals are worried that the 50-year-old event could be on its last leg. "Although the government has told us it cannot provide hard cash due to the prevailing economic conditions they have assured us of assistance in kind which when measured in financial terms is quire substantial," says Isaiah Kiplagat, Chairman of the Automobile Association of Kenya, the Safari Rally organisers.
Some pundits say the real issue is television rights and that the arguments about safety are flimsy excuses. "The ISC wants to regulate how rallying is conducted in the world to suit television but in the Kenyan situation matters are complicated by the fact the event is held on open roads. Anybody anywhere can aim a camera and shoot," says Peter Njenga, a leading Kenyan sports commentator.
The ISC’s Richards admits: "Yes, we are also looking for increased television exposure and sponsors want returns."
Last year’s rally was criticised by local fans after some of the toughest sections were conducted in private farms where an entry free was charged.
"If that happens again Safari Rally will lose its credibility among ordinary Kenyan fans," says 25-year-old Reuben Githeko, a Nairobi tailor and avid fan. "People want to see the real action. "After all, why should we host an event and pay to watch it on our roads?"
Some Kenyans suspect the pressure is coming from elsewhere — that there is more to the row than meets the eye.
"Ours is a unique event which has so far gone without the incidents faced in countries which claim to have better safety standards," local rally ace Phineas Kimathi says.
The last few years have seen a spirited campaign by some countries — Germany, South Africa and the USA — to win a round in the WRC series.
"I think this is why the Safari is targeted," Kenyan sports writer Eliud Chisika says. "All these countries have the money to pour into the ISC; we don’t."
Of all the 14 rounds of the WRC series Safari is considered the cheapest to run at Ks20 million ($ 256,000) followed by Corsica, which costs $ 2 million. The British section is the most expensive at $ 5.4 million.
Some Kenyans think the government should chip in and save the cash-strapped Safari.
"There is no doubt that the Safari has been very good for Kenya and the country would lose a great deal if the rally were to disappear," says Mwaniki M’Thaiya, editor of the Kenyan travel magazine What’s On.
So precious is the Safari to the WRC that even its critics want things sorted out. "I would not like to see a World Championship without Safari Rally, but I would have no hesitation in supporting FIA if they come to the conclusion that any event in the championship is unsafe," the ISC’s Richards says.
As things stand now and as the WRC series continues elsewhere, the toughest of all is facing its toughest test yet.
— Gemini News
in a mind game
ONE has heard of match fixing in football and hockey and certainly in cricket. Whether it is done deliberately or not, the name of the game is the same. And last month when New Zealand admitted to allowing South Africa to win in order to keep arch rivals Australia out of the final of the three-way series, it took refuge in the law designed for the series. It was all legal, permissible under the rules. But what happens when match-fixing takes place in chess? Who is to decide whether a particular result was obtained deliberately?
The All India Chess Federation recently ruled that Swati Ghate had not been very careful in her match with trainer Surya Sekhar Ganguly and nullified the result and, according to reports from the proceedings of the BPCL National `A Championship in Nagpur, became the first player in the country’s chess history to be docked a point for being the beneficiary of a fixed match.
This was a big blow to Swati who had attained some stature after becoming the first woman to qualify for the men’s National `A’ grade. And the bigger setback to this player was that her 13-round woman grandmaster norm, which she presumably made, also stood invalidated.
The report on the match itself made interesting reading. In what appeared as an act too farcical to ignore Swati Ghate was made to win by her training partner Surya Shekhar Ganguly. The result may have placed Swati closer to a woman grandmaster-norm but this make-believe effort brought back into sharp focus the incurable malady of `point-throwing’ that remains in the National `A’ Championship The episode also highlighted the lack of positive reaction among the chess fraternity. But then that has been the problem with chess for years altogether. Not many realise that match-fixing or `point-throwing is very easy in chess and reportedly has been going on for years. The nature of the game is such that it allows for manipulations and it is not very easy to determine whether such acts are deliberate, planned or spur-of-the-moment happenings.
Not that such misdemeanours have escape notice. In fact a few years back Grandmaster Pravin Thipsay had come out openly against "tanked matches" in the National Championship but obviously he did not get much backing and his crusading theme was all but forgotten till the reported farce in the competition at Nagpur.
Chess indeed in very vulnerable to such practices and has a history of match-fixing but the game has always escaped scrutiny. In the early years of Independence there were, according to old timers, instances of players selling points in distress. These people also talk about deals where some financially weak but dedicated players would be bought off for a consideration by some of the more fancied lot in order to make it to the prize-list. But these were more on the lines of economic offences and not really an attempt at unfair dealing, since both the bought and the buyer came out gainers.
In actual fact there is no escaping match-fixing in a chess. That is if someone is determined to do so there is no way he or she can be stopped. A player can make a mistake any time. How can one prove that it was an intentional error? There is no way it can be proved beyond an iota of doubt, is the general opinion.
Swati Ghate may have been unlucky to have been detected and punished but she is not the only one to have paid a heavy price. There was another instance a couple of years back and among little children as it were in a competition held in the South. An attempt was made to produce the youngest "rated" player in the country by fixing match involving the player in question and his rated opponents. He managed to hold the reputed opponents to a draw but was easy meat for lesser known players. But it was all too blatantly done. The result of the concerned matches was nullified later.
With two such incidents now made public
it is up to the All-India Chess Federation and certainly the senior
players to ensure that these indiscretions do not occur again in
competitions in India. India has a very fine record in this game in the
international board and every effort must be made to keep that record
AT the picturesque DLF course at 3.50 p.m. on Sunday, February 17, 2002, Harmeet Kahlon attained golfing manhood. A rank outsider, he rose to become the champion of the fifth edition of the Hero Honda Masters amidst defeaning cheers.
Harmeet, who turned hero overnight secured a two-year exemption on the Asian circuit among several other benefits and facilities to make further assault on the David off tour.
As Harmeet realised that he had been able to translate his sanguine hope into reality, his searching eyes located Shalini. And in hugging each other, they shed tears of joy. Shalini, who had perhaps shed more weight in four days than her husband, looked mighty pleased at the turn of events.
Harmeet showed moderation, mannerisms and maturity in handling the media, or electronic and written. This showed that he had in him talent, technique and temperament to train his eyes on achieving more hazardous titles than he bagged at Gurgoan.
Careful and candid, Harmeet has attributed three reasons for his unexpected win. They are luck, wife and carefree attitude. "Luck befriended me at crucial stages", conceded Harmeet.
"Shalini has provided me all the motivation and inspiration to withstand razor-sharp pressure of pro golf", said Harmeet,
This proves that there are wives and wives. There are some who motivate their husbands, while others distract them.
Earl Wood, father of golf wizard, Tiger, is convinced that at the level where his son is playing, "finite little problems like marriage", would destroy his career, and distract him from his quest to achieve golf immortality". Harmeet, however, does not subscribe to Earl’s views as he says: ‘Shalini is a force behind me to succeed".
"I did not even glance at the leader-board", said Harmeet adding: "Had I done so, I would not have been answering your (mediapersons) questions". In his words, he was engaged in playing his natural and instinctive game". Many senior mediapersons took this observation with a pinch (in fact bagful) of salt.
Born on September 15, 1970, Harmeet turned pro on 1999. During these two plus years, he could not win a title even on the domestic circuit. But his sudden ‘recovery’ in this Masters should help him make firm strides to stardom.
Arjun Atwal struck a dazzling form in Singapore. He played percentage golf to bring laurels to himself and his country. He became the first Indian and only the fourth Asian pro to win a European PGA event. His 274 (70, 69, 67 and 68) saw him finish five strokes less then runner-up Richard Green (Aus) 279. Nick Faldo (England), a renowned world class golfer, had to finish third. Atwal’s outstanding display for four days saw him create history.
Atwal, born on March 20, 1973, did not taste victory last year. In winning the Singapore Masters by an emphatic margain, he will be one of the players to watch in the European circuit. He has in him to cause further surprises.
Married to Sona Bhalla, Atwal won the
Wills Open, a victory that enabled him to shed his ‘ nearly man"
tag that he wore since he became pro in 1995.