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Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Manipur is seeing a resurgence of polo. Schools have been encouraging students to play polo and women have taken to the game. Polo clubs have been mushrooming in the state.

When the city downs its shutters, H. Kaoba, 35, gets ready for action. A bandh in Manipur’s capital, Imphal, may force most residents to stay indoors. But Kaoba heads for the fields, where, with a group of like-minded people, he plays a robust game of polo.

“During bandhs, when everyone else is home, we play polo,” says the farmer’s son.

Kaoba has been playing the game for the last 22 years. But he says there has been a sudden interest in the game in the strife-torn state in recent years. “It seems to have got a new lease of life.”

If youngsters across the country are donning their football T-shirts or white flannel for cricket, the Manipuri youngster is atop a pony, playing polo — which is believed to have originated centuries ago in Manipur. Known as Sagol Kangjei, it was a game played by princes and their companions. Today, it’s every Manipuri’s favourite sport.

Polo clubs have been mushrooming across the Imphal valley and in neighbouring Bishnupur and Thoubal. Around 20 clubs have opened in the last three years, taking the total number to 33.

“Even five years ago, there were only a few clubs,” says Girimohan Singh, former captain of the state team.

The game has picked up also because the state has been hosting global polo tournaments. Though the tournament was first held in 1991, it was discontinued for lack of funds. But it was revived in 2012, and polo enthusiasts are now waiting for the 2014 games, to be held in November.

The tournament, being held with corporate funding, features teams such as England’s Hurlingham polo club and others from France, Germany and Thailand. The organisers hope that UK’s Prince William will be present during the matches as the chief guest.

“We also want him to play an exhibition match with our local players where the game will be played in the traditional way with a team of seven players,” adds S. Budhhachandra Singh, president, Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association (MHRPA), the body which organises several local matches and the international tournament.

The game, which is elsewhere played on horse with sticks and balls, has changed over time in Manipur. The teams don’t consist of seven members but of four members as everywhere else.

The only difference is that players sit on Manipuri ponies and not horses. These ponies, about 52 inches at the shoulder, are much loved beasts. There was a time when every house in Manipur had a pony, used for transport as well as to ward off enemies. The sturdy ponies now cost anything from Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh.

Manipuris say that families have started keeping ponies at home. “And anyone who has a pony invariably learns to play polo,” MHRPA vice-president Rajkumar Dilip Singh says.

But the game is not restricted to affluent families. Schools, cutting across strata, have also been encouraging students to play polo. “Children start to learn the game at the age of 12 or 13. Schools want us to give them lessons in pony riding, and then polo,” Girimohan Singh, who is a member of the Nambul Mapal Polo club, adds.

“We encourage the children to keep the tradition alive. Polo was first invented in Manipur and the state should be known to the world for this,” he stresses.

Legend has it that the game was played in the court of King Ningthou Kangba in the 15th century. But it was in the 19th century, during the rule of King Nongda Lairen Pakhangba, that the game attracted attention — especially of the British. It gained in popularity as an assistant deputy commissioner of Cachar in Assam, Captain Robert Stewart, held a match with Manipuri kings and their team at Silchar. Stewart also set up India’s first polo club in Silchar.

In 1864, a British officer, Lt John Shearer, took a team of seven Manipuri players — called the Band of Brothers — to Calcutta for a match against a British team. The match ended in a draw, but the players returned to Manipur and started popularising the game there.

“Those were the days when everyone played polo — not just kings but ordinary people too,” Dilip Singh says.

The game remained popular till the 1950s. But with construction and the disappearance of grazing grounds for ponies, interest waned. In 1977, the MHRPA was set up by a handful of polo enthusiasts to revive the game. In 2005, the MHRPA started a pony breeding farm. It has 102 ponies which are hired by players who don’t own one.

Manipuri women have been playing the game, too. The state has five teams of women players, and there are separate tournaments for women participants.

Deventy Devi, a 28-year-old player, stresses that polo is a challenge for women in a patriarchal society. “It was hard to convince my parents that I too wanted to play polo because there was a pony at home. They were convinced only after I proved to be a better player than my brothers,” the Imphal Riding Club member says.

Manipuris have another reason to be interested in the game. Polo players often find jobs in the government. Sinam Bimol Singh, 38, is now a constable with the Manipur police — and believes that it’s polo that got him the job. “I learnt the game because I loved it. But I never thought it would help me get a job — and an identity,” he says. Bimol is one of the 30 players who have government jobs.

Some of the senior players feel that the game needs a professional touch. “If the government gives it a push, we will make Manipur visible on the global map. We want to give us a different identity through the game of polo,” says 54-year-old M. Manihar, who has been playing for the past 30 years.

For those who grew up in times of violence, polo is not just fun. “When we are mounted on a pony, we feel that the world is under control. There is no fear even if the state is under siege,” Kaoba says.

Polo’s past

Polo the game was played in the court of King Ningthou Kangba in the 15th century. But it attracted attention in 19th century, during the rule of King Nongda Lairen Pakhangba.

Polo is said to have become popular after an assistant deputy commissioner of Cachar in Assam, Captain Robert Stewart, held a match with Manipuri kings and their team at Silchar. Stewart also set up the first polo club in India in Silchar.

In 1864, A British officer, Lt John Shearer, took a team of seven Manipuri players — called the Band of Brothers — to Calcutta for a match against a British team. The match ended in a draw, but the players returned to Manipur and started popularising the game there.

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It’s official. Cricket is in a mess, and newspapers and television can’t have enough of the report that’s indicted a cricket boss’s son-in-law. But the man who headed the committee that prepared the report — former chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, Mukul Mudgal — is calm in the midst of the storm.

“Everyone is talking about the report, but I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” says Mudgal, 65, dressed in a blue checked blazer with a grey sweater and a pair of dark grey trousers.

Indeed, the report is the talk of the town. It has held Gurunath Meiyappan, the son-in-law of N. Srinivasan (president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India — BCCI), guilty of betting in Indian Premier League (IPL) matches.

But it’s not just the report that’s in the news. A so-called rift among the three members of the committee — Mudgal, additional solicitor general L. Nageshwar Rao and Assam Cricket Association member Nilay Dutta — is also being talked about. Two reports were presented to the Supreme Court which set up the Mudgal committee to look at Meiyappan’s role in the matches last summer. One was jointly filed by Mudgal and Rao and the other by Dutta. Mudgal did not sign the Dutta report; Dutta did not sign the Mudgal report.

The grapevine has it that Mudgal had no idea Dutta was filing a supplementary report. “Don’t be silly,” he had told a confidant when he was informed about it.

He doesn’t want to talk about it now. “The very purpose of a three-member committee is to have a different point of view,” is all that he’ll say. “Let the Supreme Court decide which report to accept.”

The former judge’s critics say his report has said nothing new, as it mostly asks for “further investigations” into many issues related to betting.

“I agree that our report is not revolutionary,” Mudgal says. “We did not state things we couldn’t corroborate.”

Dutta, on the other hand, has said that six players who were in the Indian team were involved in fixing IPL games. Dutta has also suggested that the BCCI should adopt a “zero tolerance policy” in matters of corruption.

But Mudgal holds that the BCCI is “the best run sports body in the country.” He also praises Srinivasan. “During Srinivasan’s tenure, cricketers benefited monetarily. Also, in the arena of international cricket, Srinivasan has been able to establish the strength of India which is proportional to its contribution,” he says.

Some media reports suggest that a sealed note — mentioning Dhoni’s name in the betting scandal — has been given to the Supreme Court by the Mudgal committee. “I cannot say anything about a matter that is confidential,” stresses Mudgal, who loves Dhoni’s “cool temperament” and “innovative captaincy”.

Clearly, Mudgal is wary about being misquoted. Through the interview, he stops every now and then when he feels he has said something controversial and requests that he not be quoted. And he urges me to delete some portions from the taped interview.

Is he worried that he may be harmed because cricket is now such a murky and dangerous field?

Mudgal laughs. “No, no. I have no fear at all,” he says. “As a judge, I have dealt with many sensitive cases. If you fear, you cannot decide.”

But what about former IPL commissioner Lalit Modi’s remarks that Mudgal was being followed by people in three Audi cars and several motorbikes who were covertly recording his movements during his visit to London earlier this month?

“I only wish I had known that Audi cars were trailing me. I would have very happily sat in one of them instead of travelling by train or taxi,” he says wryly.

Mudgal, I realise, is a great cricket buff as he opens up during the interview. Though he once watched a T20 match at Lord’s in England, he is devoted to Test cricket and feels that the IPL has in many ways spoiled young cricketers.

“I am not saying ban the IPL but players have got too much wealth at a very young age because of the IPL. This is leading them astray,” Mudgal feels.

Mudgal takes a call — presumably from a journalist who wants to know about the rift between the committee members — and when he hangs up, he indicates he’s had enough of cricket talk.

“Why don’t you ask me about my life,” he asks. “You know, I am the first and last lawyer in the family.”

His mother, he adds, wanted him to continue with science after he graduated in chemistry from Delhi’s Hindu College. She thought only “rowdies” studied law. But despite her misgivings, he joined Delhi University’s faculty of law in 1969. “I pursued law because I always had a special thing for underdogs,” says Mudgal, who was earlier this week appointed the chairperson of the Broadcasting Content Complaints Council, which deals with issues that private television channels face.

Along with law, he loves music. His father, Pandit Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, set up the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Delhi — an institute where classical music was and is taught. His brother and sister are acclaimed classical artistes — Madhup is a singer and Madhavi a dancer.

“I used to play the mandolin in school. My talent in music is limited to that. But I am a great listener and admirer of classical music,” Mudgal, who studied at Delhi’s Modern School, adds.

Love for music brought him and vocalist Shubha Mudgal together. They met in the late 1970s when she performed at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. He was 29, a practising lawyer, and she was 20. They fell in love and were married in 1982. The marriage, however, didn’t last.

Their son, Dhaval, lives with his father and sings for a rock band called Half Step Down. “I raised him by myself since he was five. But I enjoyed every bit of being a single parent,” he says.

Mudgal has inculcated a love for cricket and football in his son. “When he was a kid, I used to tempt him with a pack of chips to take him to a cricket match.” When he did well in a pre-board examination in 2002, the fond father took him to watch a one-day International match between India and England at Calcutta’s Eden Gardens. “I thought that would be an unusual gift to my son,” he smiles.

The retired judge himself started watching cricket when he was all of five. Mudgal recalls watching a Test match between India and the West Indies at Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla when he was 11. “Those days, a season ticket would cost Rs 8. I bought one but was late every day, so I had to watch the entire match standing.”

It’s Mudgal’s love for cricket that prompted him to write Law and Sports in India, Development Issues and Challenges. He is also a member of the court of arbitration for sport, a quasi-judicial international body which settles disputes related to sport, in Lausanne, Switzerland. He also drafted India’s National Sports Development Bill which seeks to bring all sports federations, including the BCCI, under the purview of the Right to Information Act.

In 1989, he, along with the former attorney general, Soli J. Sorabjee, represented in the Supreme Court a group of Indian cricketers who had been banned from playing cricket. Among them was Mohammed Azharuddin. “I was a great fan of his and was hurt that he was among the banned cricketers.”

In legal circles, Mudgal is respected and often described as a “sensitive” judge. Actress Karisma Kapoor and Delhi businessman Sanjay Kapur’s divorce case came up before him in 2005 when he was a judge at the Delhi High Court. He had then said: “There could be nothing better for the child if the matter is settled. Marriage is usually a heavy chain that takes three to carry — the husband, wife and the child.”

He admits that this perspective on marriage and divorce is drawn from his own life. “A personal life experience often gives a perspective to a case. A judge will be useless if he doesn’t use that perspective,” he says.

I ask him about corruption in the judiciary. Though cautious on the subject, he is critical of the way judges are appointed through a collegium. “I really regret the way the collegium is functioning now, with only favourites getting a chance. I strongly believe that a judge’s elevation to the Supreme Court should happen only on the basis of merit, not on the basis of seniority,” he says.

Mudgal, who opposes post-retirement appointments of judges, did not accept any posts that were offered to him after he retired. “I want to do things that I want to do,” he says.

And this is exactly what he is doing these days. A great fan of Sherlock Holmes, he loves reading detective novels. Currently, he is reading former Australian cricketer Michael Hussey’s Underneath the Southern Cross. A great foodie, Mudgal loves street food, especially golgappas (phuchkas). “When I was in the court in Chandigarh, my niece took me to a market to have golgappas. I went without any security. I love this kind of life.”

As I prepare to leave, he reminds me once again that some parts of the conversation should be kept off the record. I assure him that I would do so. But, for a judge, seeing is believing. “Send me a copy please,” Mudgal says. And that’s an order.

Tete a tete with Mukul Mudgal

Badminton player Jwala Gutta has just won a match. Not in a tournament, but in an ugly controversy that has been playing in the court of the Badminton Association of India (BAI). After almost two months, Gutta will be back wielding a racquet in an international match. And she’s raring to go.

“Nobody can stop me from playing. I will be play in the Bitburger Open in Germany,” she says. The BAI, which is locked in a battle with her, hasn’t sent her name as an entrant from India yet, but Gutta says she is going to sponsor her own trip.

The fight with the BAI, clearly, is not over. Its disciplinary committee recently imposed a life ban on the gold medallist of the 2010 Commonwealth Games for allegedly delaying a match in the Indian Badminton League (IBL) in August. She moved the Delhi High Court challenging the ban. The court said she could play.

“Why this life ban,” asks a disgruntled Gutta, 30. “I had neither doped nor fixed a match.”

Gutta, who plays for the Petroleum Sports Promotion Board, met petroleum minister Veerappa Moily recently to garner support. “He has been following my case. He’ll write to the association,” she says with confidence. (Since the interview, the petroleum minister has sent a strongly worded letter to the sports minister on the issue.)

We are in a car that is heading towards the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, from where she is to catch a flight to Hyderabad. The captain of an IBL team, Krrish Delhi Smashers, relates the events that led to her ban. She’d objected when a member of another team, Banga Beats, was replaced because of an injury at the last moment. This altercation led to the match between the two teams being delayed. And BAI said that led to revenue losses.

Gutta asserts that she had to voice the concern of her team. “I was the icon player of the team. My owners told me that what had happened was wrong and they would not allow it. As captain, they asked me to take up the issue. Also, I have a signed letter from my team saying this was a collective decision.”

Her relations with the IBL have been fraught from day one. Before the tournament started, she had criticised the organisers for slashing her base price. “I had signed my contract for US $50,000 but they reduced it to US $25,000. I felt cheated.”

Though Gutta is careful not to say a word against the owners of her team or the corporate franchises associated with the IBL, she is open in her criticism of national coach Pullela Gopichand. “There is an IBL governing council consisting of senior badminton players, including Gopichand. If the corporate sectors are doing wrong, why didn’t Gopi object,” she asks. “He didn’t say a word in my support.”

It’s an open secret that Gopichand and Gutta don’t see eye to eye. Gutta has often questioned how the national coach could be allowed to run a private training school, the Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy, in Hyderabad.

“All badminton players except Ashwini Ponnappa and I have been trained in his academy. He tries to dictate terms to players like us who have come up on our own. But he will always stand for those who belong to his academy,” she maintains.

Among those trained by Gopichand is Olympic bronze medallist Saina Nehwal. Is Gutta suggesting that the coach would have come out in Nehwal’s support had she had been in her (Gutta’s) position?

“She would have never been in my position,” Gutta retorts. She says that neither would Nehwal have been “victimised” by the association, nor would she have spoken out. “She would have reacted differently. But I can’t keep my mouth shut.”

Gutta’s differences with Nehwal have often been a subject of discussion in badminton circles. What is the animosity all about?

“You can ask anyone — I am a very friendly person. But friendship cannot be one-sided. There has to be a response from the other side too,” she replies.

Unlike Nehwal, who is a star of Gopichand’s academy, Gutta followed a different route to stardom. She started playing badminton from the age of four, encouraged by her Telugu-speaking father, a clerk in the Reserve Bank of India, and her mother, a pharmaceuticals exporter of Chinese descent. Trained by S.M. Arif, Gutta started as a singles player and won the national junior championships in 2000 when she was 17. Arif later suggested that she play doubles.

Known for being extremely competitive, her peers say she can also be unpredictable. There are days when she is extremely friendly, and days when she barely speaks with anyone. She wants to take charge of a game and often ends up dominating her partners.

She had earlier fallen out with her partner, Shruti Kurien-Kanetkar. Later, she had a rift with Ponnappa. The tournament partners broke up after the 2012 London Olympics but have come together again. Gutta says she will partner Ponnappa in the coming international tournaments.

But her co-players also agree that Gutta has the strength to speak her mind. “I would never say things to please others,” she stresses.

Calm and focused on the field, she partnered with Ponnappa and won a gold medal in the women’s doubles at the Commonwealth Games 2010 — the first gold medal that India won in the women’s double events in the Games. The same year, Gutta and Ponnappa were the first Indian women’s doubles pair to win a bronze medal in the badminton world championship. She played women’s doubles as well as mixed doubles at the 2012 London Olympics.

She complains that the badminton association takes the credit for the victories but does little for sportspersons. “It gets funding from the government because of our performance but doesn’t spend a penny on players,” Gutta, who ranks 235th in the world, says.

Dressed in a blue kurta and white churidaar, the six-footer has a fashionable air. She doesn’t have the dishevelled look that one tends to associate with sportspersons. On the contrary, her designer glasses and purse give her a stylish look, enhanced by her spotless skin and shining hair. Gutta has even walked the ramp on a few occasions, and performed an “item number” in the Telugu film Gunde Jaari Gallanthayyinde.

The shuttler, however, refuses to call it an item number. “It was a special song because the song had my name in it. Also, the movie was a superhit.” In the song, she is widely remembered for wearing a short blue dress. “People started calling me the girl with the golden legs,” she says with a laugh.

Her critics, however, hold that her interest in fashion and films has affected her game. Her world ranking was earlier six. But Gutta scoffs at the criticism.

“After giving 20 years to the sport, what’s wrong in being seen in advertisements or fashion shows,” she asks.

In these 20 years, Gutta has built a fortune for herself. From her rented house in Begumpet, she moved to a bungalow in the posh Banjara Hills in Hyderabad. But she insists that it has not been an easy road to success. “There was a time when my father’s entire salary of Rs 5,000 was spent on house rent. My father would have been promoted if he had taken transfers out of Hyderabad but he didn’t do so because that would have meant the end of my career in badminton,” she says.

Gutta is now the proud owner of five cars, including an SUV Volvo. What about the BMW that the media speculated had been gifted to her by cricketer-turned-parliamentarian Mohammed Azharuddin?

“I used to have a BMW. I have five cars in my house. Now will you tell me that all these have been gifted? This is ridiculous,” she says with a shrug.

But didn’t she share a special relationship with the celebrated cricketer and captain in 2010?

“The news is already dead and buried 100 feet down,” she says smilingly. “I know a lot of cricketers. I am friends with everybody. There is nothing wrong in being friends.”

It was around then that her marriage with Arjuna awardee and ace badminton player Chetan Anand started unravelling. The two divorced in 2011, and Gutta says she has moved on. “Divorce is part of life. Life doesn’t end with that one event.”

This is an off-the-court lesson that she has learnt. On the court, she’s learnt to be patient, she says. “I have learnt that it’s never all bad. I am very positive,” Gutta adds.

That’s called the sportswoman spirit.

Sreesanth speaks 
‘I have not committed any mistake’

A “Do not disturb” sign hangs on the handle of the door to room no. 1504 at the Renai Medicity hospital in Cochin. Two burly men are at the door, trying to keep visitors out. Shanthakumaran Sreesanth is inside, lying on his hospital bed and watching television. The bearded 30-year-old cricketer smiles, but refuses to talk, though an interview has been fixed for the day. After some cajoling, he gives in — with a resigned air but in good humour.

Dressed in a blue T-shirt and a pair of grey trousers, the pacer looks frail. He has lost 10 kilos in the past two months. He was hospitalised last week after he was diagnosed with high blood pressure, a viral infection and tonsillitis. Doctors have advised him to talk less and relax, and Sreesanth says he is mindlessly surfing channels to keep “bad thoughts” away. (After five days in hospital, he is now back in his sister’s house in Cochin’s Tripunithura area.)

Sreesanth, who was arrested along with Ankeet Chavan and Ashok Chandila — two of his teammates from the Rajasthan Royals — on charges of spot-fixing under the provisions of the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act in May this year, relates the “torture” that he went through in jail. He tells SONIA SARKAR that he doesn’t want even his enemies to experience all that he did during the 27 days of police and judicial custody. All that he wants to do now, he says, is get back to the field. Excerpts from the interview:

Q. How are you spending your time since you have come out of jail?

A: It’s been really tough. After 27 days of torture, I also wanted to get back to my original self. My family members are really trying hard to get me to smile again. They are keeping me engaged in different activities. I have been mostly composing music along with my brother-in-law Madhu Balakrishnan, who is a well-known singer. Plus, my nephews — Madhav and Mahadev — are making me watch a lot of 3D movies such as Shrek and The Adventures of Tintin. I have been gymming and swimming too.

Q. Do you feel frustrated at times?

A: No. I know it is a bad phase. I am just trying to move on.

Q. How did the hearing of the anti-corruption unit of Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) go last week in Delhi?

A: It went off really well. I told them my side of the story. They asked me to be patient with the case and wait for the disciplinary committee meeting, which is to take place next week. They said if there was nothing against me, I would be absolved. I completely respect the BCCI.

Q. When is the next hearing of the court case in Delhi?

A. I don’t know yet. I have left it to my lawyers.

Q. Since the BCCI has suspended you now, you cannot play cricket. But are you practising?

A. I want to practise. Some local clubs have even offered me their facilities informally. Legally, they cannot do so if they are affiliated to the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA). With the BCCI ban on me, the KCA won’t allow me to play for the clubs.

Q. Do you want to play?

A. Yes, of course. There have been cases where legal battles have gone on for long. And then one day, the accused is suddenly acquitted. If I also get acquitted and am suddenly asked to play for, say, the Ranji Trophy, I won’t be able to do that. I really need to practise.

Q. How did you feel when you were in the police’s special cell?

A. That’s something I really want to forget. I have no complaints against anyone but I really hope no cricketer ever goes through this. It was not easy to face this after being hailed as a world renowned cricketer. It’s very difficult to accept it when you are being treated as the biggest culprit ever.

Q. How do you look back at your days in jail?

A. This was a phase that not even my worst enemy should go through. Life was doomed. I could get just one phone call a day from my family members. Even now, when I watch a film where there is a scene in a jail, it haunts me. The first 3-4 days were really tough for me. But then I believed in the saying, “maut se kya darna jab qatilon ke beech hum ghar basa chuke” — why fear death when you are living in the midst of killers? I took some time to adjust but I have the habit of adapting to any situation. Initially, I was very scared but by the time I got bail the fear was disappearing. But this experience has surely made me stronger. Probably, whatever happened was my karma.

Q. How did you spend time in jail?

A. I was mostly in jail number one. I used to read the Bible and Bhagavad Gita. I also penned down my feelings during those days.

Q. Did you make friends there? Were you treated like a celebrity?

A. A lot of people in jail tried to cheer me up by reminding me of the prosperous career that I had left behind. Many policemen from Tamil Nadu spoke with me in Tamil to make me feel comfortable. They said, “You will be fine, we are your fans.” I had hope. Loads of people came to me for autographs. Some of the cricketers in the jail also came to visit me. But I didn’t talk much.

Q. Reports said you had a fight with (co- accused) Chandila in the special cell.

A. That’s not true. I don’t know who spread these rumours.

Q. The police claim that you had confessed to spot-fixing. Is this true?

A. I don’t want to say anything on this. All I can say is that if a thief is caught and brought to a police station, he has to sign a letter confessing the crime.

Q. So was there any pressure on you to confess?

A. I don’t want to talk about it. I can only say, let’s wait and see.

Q. How did the people of Kerala react to your arrest and alleged involvement in the spot-fixing scandal? You are a hero in the state.

A. I was really scared earlier because I didn’t know how people would take it. But the people of Kerala have been very supportive. I did not receive such a grand welcome from the people even when I came back after we won the World Cup. But yes, there are people who also mock us. Once, my nephew was asked by a friend, “Hey, what happened to your superstar uncle?” On another occasion, a classmate teased him, saying, “High Five for Sreesanth, he went to jail.” My nephew replied, “Yes, high five for Sreesanth, he went to a special jail called Tihar, which ordinary men don’t go to.” He just laughed it off.

It (the scandal) must have disturbed a lot of people. But I still thought I would face them. If I was scared, I would have been hiding. But I wanted to be there with the people, so I came to Cochin instead of going to any other city after being released from jail. I have to go through this phase.

Q. How did it affect your family?

A. My first concern was my parents. They never deserved to go through what they experienced. But they are very strong. My parents know me well. Their concern was how I would handle it as I am very emotional.

My parents have always respected me for whatever decision I have taken. They have always been there with me. They have been seeing me making silly mistakes since school.

Q. Is this also a silly mistake?

A. No, I have not committed any mistake. I am just in a phase that nobody should go through.

Q. According to the police, on May 9, during a match between Kings XI Punjab and Rajasthan Royals played at Mohali near Chandigarh, you ran up to bowl an over with a towel tucked into the band of your trousers. They allege that this was a signal to bookies on fixing an over. You had bowled the previous over without the towel. You were paid Rs 10 lakh for the match. Is this true? Did you wear a towel as a signal?

A. South African pace bowler Allan Donald wears a wrist band. Similarly, I use a towel sometimes. There have been instances when I have kept a towel and done well. I use it particularly on days when I am not doing well. I also use head bands. It depends on the day. I do it if I feel like doing it.

Q. Who are the cricketers who called you or messaged you to show their support?

A. I am not using my cellphone since being released. I am not sure who contacted me and who didn’t.

Q. What difference has cricket made to your life?

A. Cricket has made me learn everything. It has made me a stronger person. Cricket is my passion. It gave me everything.

Q. How much money did cricket give you?

A. Can’t say.

Q. Did you ever think of an alternative career for yourself? Do you see a future in cricket anymore?

A. No, I never thought of any other career. Why should I? When I was in jail, I wanted to come out of it. Cricket is what I want to play. But I do want to know when — when again.

Q. Do you fear that you will go to jail?

A. I don’t even think about it. I will be patient for the verdict.

Q. You have given statements that this arrest could be a conspiracy by some people. Who would have conspired against you? Your father had earlier said that (Captain M.S.) Dhoni could be behind the conspiracy. Do you agree?

A. That was just an emotional statement. I believe in the Indian judiciary.

Q. Delhi cops claim that the bookies had promised you a sum of Rs 40 lakh, out of which they paid Rs 10 lakh. It was said you used the money to buy a smartphone and a few luxury items for your girlfriend Jhala.

A. First and foremost, she is not my girlfriend. She is just a good friend. I know her family well too. And second, that’s how I treat people and friends. If you look at the last 12 years of my life, you will know that I am a shopaholic. I work hard and earn. I also save for family and charity. But there is nothing wrong in spending money. And whatever I spend is my money and nobody else’s.

Q. When you were arrested, some insiders said you’d claimed that you had good connections with the Kerala and Maharashtra chief ministers. Did you try to influence the case by using your connections?

A. These are all rumours. All that I asked was if they had an arrest warrant for me. They told me to shut up. Then I sat quietly and came to Delhi.

Q. Chandresh, who is believed to be the leader of the arrested bookies, apparently admitted that he had “arranged” women for you and Chandila at least five or six times in the last one year. What do you have to say to that?

A. I should then find out about it. There is no girl in my life.

Q. There are rumours that you are planning to marry soon. Is there someone?

A. I am not seeing anyone. My marriage will depend upon my Mom and Dad. There are lots of proposals coming in. I don’t know if they have zeroed in on anyone.

Q. How widespread is spot-fixing or match-fixing in India and elsewhere?

A. It could be widespread. How do I know?

Q. You had another traumatic experience two years ago when an accident put you in a wheelchair after two surgeries on your toes.

A. After that incident, I had really pushed myself into the game again. There are three platinum screws implanted in my foot. Even doctors had said that I would never be able to play again. If anyone sees the X-ray report of the injury, they will not believe that I still played after the injury.

Q. Your mother had told the media that you believed in your friends. Did any of your friends betray you?

A. I am too friendly and emotional. That’s my good side — and my bad side. Most of my friends have used me. Sometimes I also feel that a particular person is going to backstab me; still I go ahead and help him out. This happened to me during my schooldays and even in cricket. But I forgive such people.

Q. How well did you know Jiju Janardhan?

A. I know him well. He is an all rounder. We met at the MRF Pace Foundation (a private school for cricketing training). I have known him for more than a decade.

Q. You are back on the social networking site Twitter after a long gap. Your fans must be very supportive of you but have you received any abusive messages online? How do you deal with such messages?

A. I have learnt that all these comments that we get on Twitter are never to be taken seriously. They don’t change your real life situation.

Q. You are a music lover. What music do you listen to?

A. I have been listening to a lot of Yesudas and Kishore Kumar. Of course, I have been also listening to my brother-in-law’s songs.

Q. Any song that you have been hearing again and again these days? Or one you can relate to?

A. I have been listening to Eminem’s I am not afraid to take a stand. And also, Linkin Park’s In the end, it doesn’t even matter.

Q. If you have a chance to live your life again, what would you not do?

A. I would probably keep away from a lot of people. My biggest mistake has been that I made too many friends. And not only that, I treated some friends as my brothers and cousins. I have learnt a bitter lesson. I also learnt that it is better to be alone than in the company of bad people.

Q. Finally, are you innocent or guilty?

A. I know what I am. There is no point explaining whether I am good or bad. I just want to say I will wait patiently and keep myself busy. I will forget my experience of those 27 days and emerge much stronger.


Paris Olympics, 1900. India’s total medal tally: 2

Beijing Olympics, 2008. India’s total medal tally: 3

An additional medal in a span of 108 years is nothing to write home about. But India’s abysmal record in global games — barring the occasional cup in cricket — doesn’t surprise anybody. After all, when you think sports, you think of corrupt officials, crumbling infrastructure, frustrated players — and a host of defeats.

But now, after years of mismanagement and apathy, efforts are being made to boost sports. And some measures are in the offing.

A National Sports Development Bill is expected to come up in Parliament in its next session. If it gets enacted and implemented — there are seemingly as many detractors as there are supporters of it — India’s usual lament at the end of a tournament may turn into a cry of joy.

“This is much needed. Every organisation has to be answerable to achieve goals,” says former hockey captain Pargat Singh. Others are not so sure. “Whatever the sports bodies do should be their business and nobody else’s,” retorts Commonwealth Games (CWG) Federation president Michael Fennell.

What’s clear is that the country’s apex sports body, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), and 35 national sports federations — for long accused of patronage, coteries and corruption — are in for a shake up.

Among other things, the Bill proposes that:

No president of the IOA or of the federations can serve more than three terms. Other office bearers can stay on for two terms. And no one can continue beyond 70 years of age.

Polling in IOA and federations will take place through secret ballot. The process will be videographed. Twenty-five per cent of all seats in sport bodies should go to prominent sportspersons.

Federations will also have to submit a long-term development plan every four years to the government.

A national sports ombudsman will address issues of sexual harassment and corruption.

Many believe that one reason Indian sports have never taken off is the fact that the federations, established to promote sports such as hockey, athletics, wrestling and football, are mostly headed by politicians and bureaucrats who have little to do with the game but have been sticking to their posts for long years.

The Archery Association of India, for instance, has been headed by V.K. Malhotra of the Bharatiya Janata Party for the past 32 years. Satish K. Sharma of the Congress has been steering the Aero Club for 24 years. CWG secretary Lalit Bhanot held the secretarial post in the Athletics Federation of India for 15 years. Former CWG chairman Suresh Kalmadi has been the IOA president for 17 years (see box).

Limiting their terms, many believe, will cleanse the system. “This is one of the first steps we have taken to do away with corruption in sports bodies,” stresses Union sports minister Ajay Maken, who mooted the bill.

Indeed, it has often been argued that some federation heads feel if they can’t be ousted, they are not accountable to anybody. And that leads to a host of negative factors.

For one, slackness sets in. “And slackness is detrimental to the development of any sport,” warns former badminton champion Prakash Padukone, who thinks even three terms is too long a period for presidents.

Stagnation, adds former billiards champion Michael Ferreira, is another problem. “As one gets entrenched in one position for years, the ‘hardening of the arteries’ syndrome emerges and it becomes increasingly difficult to be nimble,” he says.

Many, on the other hand, think the proposal is undemocratic. “We strongly oppose it. This kind of bill exists nowhere in the world,” says wrestling federation president G.S. Mander, who is serving his fourth term in office.

But the move is not new. National sports guidelines introduced by the Indira Gandhi government in 1975 stated that office bearers would not be allowed to serve more than two consecutive terms. The rules, however, were flouted by federations, while the ministry looked the other way.

In 2010, then sports minister M.S. Gill issued fresh guidelines and set new norms to deal with age fraud, corruption and doping — which are now a part of the bill.

Despite all this, the bill is just one small step forward. Experts point out that unless money is poured into federations and sports — and utilised well — the medal tally in world events is unlikely to change dramatically.

The government believes it is addressing the issue of money as well. The minister points out that federations have to now prepare a four-year development plan, spelling out details of what they are doing for sponsorships, marketing and promotion, along with their plans for coaching, the development of clubs and providing facilities and equipment.

How far that’s going to help bringing in money is anybody’s guess. After all, for a game to flourish, budgets have to spill into crores of rupees. The Indian cricket industry, for instance, clocks an annual turnover of Rs 5,000 crore. That of golf is pegged at some Rs 3,000 crore, according to the Professional Golf Tour of India, an organisation that oversees the sport. But this figure includes golfing real estate development, sponsorships for apparel, equipment and accessories, besides prize money. Yet the prize money offered at golf tournaments in India is still peanuts.

And cricket really took off after private enterprise stepped in with big bucks. The last Indian Premier League round of matches fetched Rs 3,500 crore in sponsorships, advertising and prize money, according to some estimates.

Most sports outfits in India also depend on government funding, which has always been limited. The government’s sports budget dipped from Rs 3,315.67 crore last year (when Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games) to Rs 1,121 crore this year.

And even this money tends to get lost in transit. Rahul Mehra, who filed a petition in the Delhi High Court in 2009 questioning the long tenures of federation office bearers, stresses that money often doesn’t reach the right quarters. Insiders recount numerous instances of misuse of funds: money allotted for a sport being spent on federation elections; money meant for sports funding lavish parties; sums earmarked for athletes never reaching them and so on.

“When I started my career in 1994, there was no boxing ring in Haryana,” says boxer Akhil Kumar. “We used aluminium pipes to make a temporary ring. We wore jute gloves instead of leather ones. The federation had been given the money to meet our basic needs, but we got nothing.”

Now, federations will have to submit audited financial accounts and will be answerable to Parliament.

But the BJP’s Malhotra believes the ministry is “over-stepping” its limits. “Our accounts are checked by the comptroller and auditor general of India. We are not answerable to the ministry,” he says. “We fund them, so we need to see their accounts,” retorts a senior ministry official.

A body, the government warns, can be derecognised if it fails to comply with the rules. “Upon withdrawal of recognition, the federations will not receive any assistance from the government and will have to forego the right to regulate the sport in India,” says Maken.

Already, the move is being challenged by the sports groups. The IOA posted an online response on its website, saying that sports federations were recognised by the IOC, and such recognition “cannot be subjected to recognition given by the government.”

But those on the field maintain that these provisions work only when there is talent. A former sports minister stresses that unless India discovers hidden talent at the village level — and then trains them professionally — it will never be able to come up with world-class sportspeople. China, for instance, identifies talent in schools and then provides them with world-class facilities for practice. The erstwhile Soviet Union started zeroing in on children when they were seven. If they showed talent by the time they were 10 or 11, they would be made to join one of 5,000 junior sports schools after regular classes. The most skilled young Russians were enrolled in one of 600 Olympic reserve schools.

“Catch them young should be our theme,” says the former minister. India, he says, should have a “talent identification programme” for determining potential in schools and colleges.

But identifying talent is not the same as nurturing it. Sportswomen often complain about coaches or officials who ask for sexual favours in exchange for sporting opportunities — a grouse that the government is dealing with. The bill states such complaints will be addressed by a national sports ombudsman. “We barely get a chance to communicate with federation bosses and put across our grievances. An ombudsman would certainly help,” says boxer M.C. Mary Kom.

The provision would help resolve issues such as the T.S. Ranjitha case. Last July, the hockey player publicly accused her coach and Olympian Maharaj Kishan Kaushik of sexual harassment. The case is still dragging on.

Despite all the goodies that the government has in its bag, what’s surprising is that it doesn’t take into account the Sports Authority of India (SAI), which looks after infrastructure and organises tournaments.

“Regulating sports federations will not get us anywhere. It should regulate the functioning of SAI,” says former hockey federation president K.P.S. Gill.

In fact, poor or underutilised infrastructure is the bane of sportspeople. Shooter Jaspal Rana points out that expensive sophisticated equipment is lying unused in the Karni Singh Shooting Range for want of bullets. Less than six months after the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, the range — with dirty floors and badly maintained stairs — underlines gross negligence.

Maken, however, insists that all will be well soon. Tenders are being floated for the cleanliness of stadiums. “We have also set up a consultative committee to deal with infrastructure,” he says.

Anirudh Burman of the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research, who has been studying the bill, argues that what federations need are targets — such as the number of medals in a particular event or sport. “In the absence of targets, it is questionable what these sports bodies will finally achieve.”

Maken, however, believes that medals will follow if the reforms are put in place. “Medals are the net result of the process,” he adds.

The countdown has just begun.

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When Delhi decked up for the Commonwealth Games, its sportspersons were practising in makeshift camps.

Sanjana Nayak has a dream. She wants to win a medal at the Commonwealth Games next year. But Nayak can see her hopes ebbing away. With just a year before the Games open in Delhi, the medal-winning gymnast is still looking around for a place to practise.

The Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium (IGI), which has the sole gymnastic training camp run by the country’s apex sports body, the Sports Authority of India (SAI), has been closed for the past two years for renovation leading to next year’s mega event starting on October 3. Players have been asked to practise in a government school in east Delhi but the school lacks even basic equipment such as uneven bars and spring boards. “I want to win at least a silver medal for my country, if not a gold. But now I doubt that it can ever happen,” says Nayak, who won the bronze in the 49th Senior National Gymnastics Championships in January this year.

Nayak is not the only one in despair. Players from different disciplines have been complaining about the lack of basic training set ups in Delhi. All the major stadiums — the Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Complex, Talkatora, Shivaji, Chhatrasal and Major Dhyanchand — have been closed for the past two years for renovation before the Games. Players are practising in makeshift camps.

The government, surprisingly, is not greatly worried about the impact of shut stadiums on the performance of the players. “At present, we are concentrating on the physical infrastructure and nothing else,” asserts Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit. “Since Delhi is the host city, we have to make sure that everything — from the stadium to transport and hospitality — is perfect,” she says, suggesting that players make use of facilities in Delhi suburbs.

The Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) has not set any deadlines for the host country on opening up venues, but for both the Manchester and Melbourne games, hosted in 2002 and 2006 respectively, the playing grounds had been opened a year before the event.

Delhi is nowhere near any of its predecessors when it comes to practice grounds. Take the case of 20-year-old athlete Vipin Kumar, who won silver medals at the Delhi State Athletic Championships in 2007 and 2008. Kumar practises at the Lodhi Gardens in central Delhi every day. The park may be huge, but has no other facilities, such as a proper running track, that athletes need.

“The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium had two synthetic tracks which are essential for an international event. Since it has been closed for renovation, the only choice athletes are left with is the SAI-owned Central Secretariat grounds in south Delhi,” says Kumar. “Though it has a normal track, the field is full of potholes that can lead to injuries. So I avoid going there,” says Kumar, one of the probable athletes for the Games.

India won the bid for hosting 2010 Games in 2003. Six years later, players feel that little has been done to help or train them. As the Games near, the government seems set on finishing all the pending work. But while it focuses on completing its projects, the players complain that they are being sidelined.

“By 2010, the stadiums will be ready — but not the sportspersons,” says Pramod Kumar, Vipin’s coach and also a gold medalist. “There is no time to groom players to compete at the international level even if the stadiums open anytime soon.”

Kumar’s concern is justified if one goes by India’s performance record in athletics at the Commonwealth Games so far. Milkha Singh is the only Indian to have won a gold medal — way back in 1958. For the forthcoming Games, India is eyeing 141 medals, including 47 golds, in athletics. But old sprinters like Milkha Singh think it’s an “impossible” mission.

“It is heart-rending to see that not a single athlete could win a gold medal in the past 50 years after me. Athletics is an extremely important sport in the Commonwealth Games with the UK, Australia and Africa being the toughest competitors,” he says.

Clearly, the game is only as good as a player’s performance. And, Singh stresses, the interest in the Games and the number of spectators will wane if India doesn’t win a fair number of medals. “Looking at the present state of affairs, I have no hopes.”

Boxing, which is a game where Indians are expected to fare well, doesn’t present a rosy picture either. India, which won five medals including a gold, two silvers and two bronzes in boxing in Melbourne, has been hoping to bag 44 medals in the sport.

“The government has conceived big dreams for us, but the effort they are putting in to make these dreams come true is too small,” says Satinder Kumar, who won a gold at the Junior Asian Championship 2006 and a silver in the International Boxing Tournament in Russia this year. “There is no future for us,” says Satinder, who has been practising in a boxing ring in a government school for the past few days.

Celebrity boxer Vijender Singh, who won silver medals in the Beijing Olympics 2008 and a bronze in Melbourne, says he is shocked to see the “pathetic treatment” being given to sportspersons. “Nothing has changed since the last Games. I didn’t get any facilities then, and our juniors are not getting them either. The Delhi government received around Rs 400 crore from the centre for the preparation of the Games, but where the money has been invested is a big question. Nothing has been done to improve facilities for the players,” he says.

The government, adds award-winning boxer Raj Kumar Sangwan, should have come up with other arrangements for the players before closing down the existing stadiums.

Commonwealth Games Federation chief Michael Fennell agrees. “It is the responsibility of the local sports bodies, especially different federations, and the government of the host country to make adequate alternative arrangements for the home players,” Fennell told The Telegraph from Jamaica before arriving in Delhi for talks with the government. “We encourage the host country to prepare their players in a way that they give their best on their home turf. But we leave it to the host country how to do it.”

Needless to say, the host country has done little so far. A top Indian shooter complains that though Delhi shooters do not have an electronic range to practise on, India hopes to win 120 medals. In Melbourne 2006, Indian shooters won 26 medals — the largest number of medals for the country in the event.

“The Karni Singh Range at Surajkund in Faridabad has the only electronic range available in the national capital region. Now that it’s closed for repairs, shooters have to make do with the shooting range at the Siri Fort Sports Complex, which runs with the aid of a manual pulley,” he says.

But Organising Committee (OC) officials reiterate their promise to open the venues “well in time”.

“It is true that the facilities now available for the players are not of a ‘high’ standard but they are good enough for the players to groom themselves. All Commonwealth venues will be perfectly ready 10 months before the event,” says OC secretary Lalit Bhanot.

The players would find that funny — if they weren’t so busy finding alternative practice grounds.