On Friday, a grand closing ceremony marked the end of another Indian National Games in Kerala characterised by scandals, withdrawals and, some might say, mediocrity. This competition, considered as the Indian version of the Olympic Games, is supposed to be the country’s biggest festival in its sporting calendar. It is compared to the Olympics because the nation’s top athletes are competing for their home states against representatives of the rest of the country in 35 sports, marking the 35th anniversary of the Games.
Once again, however, the National Games became a prime example of how a sporting event of this calibre should not be organised. Although being touted as the most anticipated event of the year, the competition remained largely unnoticed by the majority of sports fans in India. The reasons behind this are several, but they can all be traced back to a lack of organisation and poor strategic decisions by the competition’s administrators.
Firstly, the Games do not act as a qualifier for the most valued international competition for Indians – the Asian Games, which gives no incentives for top athletes to compete. Many states do not offer any financial rewards, too, which causes many withdrawals from elite sportspeople. Some states do not have the money to fund their athletes and send them to the Games, let alone organise its own training camps. This leads to many athletes switching loyalties and competing not for their home states but for those offering them the most money. Thus, the entire rationale behind the Games is undermined.
The biggest organisational flaw, however, is the fact that the Games are constantly delayed. They are supposed to be held once in two years but this rarely happens. In fact, the previous eight editions of the Games were run in 2011, 2007, 2005, 2002, 1999, 1997, 1994, and 1987 respectively. Some editions had been delayed five or six times before they were eventually run. This inconsistency causes headache to athletes and their coaches who cannot plan their players’ development and their event calendar with any confidence. Expectedly then, some states like Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Sikkim did not send any teams in any discipline, questioning the whole purpose of the Games.
But if the overall impression of the Games was rather negative, how did the volleyball competition go?
Well, unsurprisingly, it started with a scandal. The volleyball team of the state of Uttarakhand withdrew from the competition amidst a dispute with the Indian Volleyball Federation. The Federation’s president Avandesh Kumar is in bad terms with the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation in Uttarakhand which has a volleyball academy in the area and owns most of the players representing the state. The row began when Kumar disallowed the ONGC to send the same group players to the National Games and the National Club Volleyball Championships later this year. Bemused and outraged, the Uttarakhand team decided not to take part in either of the two competitions.
“When the players can’t represent their state in the upcoming events, what’s the use of participating in the Games and sit idle after that,” an Uttarakhand team official stated.
Regardless of the scandal, the volleyball competition took place without any further interruptions, with the finals being played in a fully packed 6000-seat sports hall. Not only that, but a couple of hundred spectators couldn’t find a place inside the arena and had to watch the game on a large screen monitor just outside the hall. In that day, Kerala beat Karnataka 3:1 (25-19 23-25 26-24 25-12) in the women’s competition to claim the gold medals for their state, whereas their male counterparts had to settle with the silver, being beaten by Tamil Nadu again by 3:1 (24:26 25:20 25:23 25:12).
And although the atmosphere was truly like in a festival, there have been many talks after the closing ceremony around the potential of Indian volleyball and why is it underutilised. These talks can be summed up by the former India international K J Kapil Dev:
“We have some of the most talented youngsters, but they are not getting the proper guidance at the right age. SAI [local sports authorities in India] brings in these youngsters at age 14 or 15, but by then they have developed flaws in their technique that cannot be corrected. The training programme should target kids who are 7-8 years old. If cricketers and footballers can start getting training at the age, why not spikers”.
Photo Source: wlivenews.com