Indian judo has struggled to stay alive given the odds heavily loaded against them. The derecognition of the Judo Federation of India (JFI) for flouting the Sports Ministry’s tenure guidelines (Mukesh Kumar did not serve the National Sports Development Code’s mandatory four-year cooling period after taking over JFI President in 2013 following two successive terms as secretary) had left the sport in disarray.
Derecognition automatically means that no government funding will be provided to a national federation for holding national or state-level tournaments. Given this scenario, one can well imagine the plight of Indian Olympic judo participant Avtar Singh. The 24-year-old, who hails from the Kothe Ghurala village, near Gurdaspur, Punjab, grimly battled with paucity of international tournaments among others in a bid to keep his international judo career going. It was a routine thing for him to miss international tourney due to funding constraints.
Avtar, who will be fighting in the 90-kg category at the 2016 Rio Olympics, took part in the Turkish Grand Prix Tournament– it was made possible by his hardworking parents, who had ploughed their hard-earned savings into his travelling to Turkey. “My parents encashed fixed deposit earnings to enable me pay my air tickets for my Turkey journey,” Avtar said before leaving for Rio.
The Punjab Police Assistant Sub-Inspector made the Olympic cut with a world ranking of 79 on the cut-off day, sealing one of the two continental quotas, after featuring in the Asian Championship in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Avtar lost in the semifinals but went on to beat Iran’s Saeed Moradi in the repechage round to qualify for the Olympics.
For a sport that enjoys a fair bit of legacy, Indian judo could scale a new high if Avtar comes home with a power-packed performance in Rio. He is the first Indian male judoka to make it to the Olympics in 12 years – Akram Shah had last played in the 2004 Athens Olympics. In fact, Indian judo hasn’t had much to cheer about, steadily taking a downward spiral ever since the mid-eighties, when the likes of Cawas Billimoria and Sandeep Byala kept the sport on a firm footing by doing well on the international stage.
Cawas and Sandeep were among four Indian judokas to win four bronze medals at the 1986 Seoul Asian Games – the others being Shyam Singh Gurjar and Banni Singh. Of course, Cawas and Sandeep did not attain much success when they fought in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics – the first time Indian judokas qualified for the Olympics.
The duo started a trend of Indian judokas qualifying for the Olympics. Late Brojeshori Devi qualified for the 2000 Olympics, while Tombi Devi & Diviya played in the 2008 Olympics in the women’s section. Barring the four bronze medals in the 1986 Asiad, coupled with Poonam Chopra’s bronze medal at the 1994 Asian Games, Indian judokas haven’t come close to making a podium finish.
One hopes that Avtar will infuse much-needed lift into Indian judo with a ‘wow’ showing in Rio.Published 06 Aug 2016, 13:06 IST