Interview with Sunny Singh: "Rugby is in my blood, I won't ever stop playing; it has made me the person I am now"
The Jungle Crows Foundation, through its unique open-for-all sport-for-development approach, has supported many children from disadvantaged communities over the years to express themselves through the medium of sports and reach their full potential.
This interview series is an attempt to bring out the stories of several such young people associated with the Foundation, coming from diverse backgrounds, and develop a platform for further discussion and dialogue on the theme of sports. In the third of the series, Disha Musaddi speaks to one of the most senior members involved with the Foundation – Sunny Singh about his journey and experiences.
How did your tryst with rugby begin?
I got introduced to rugby at the age of 11. My brother used to play for YRC (Young Rugby Club), a club in Calcutta. I would go with him and carry his bag. After a year I started playing rugby for my school, Assembly of God.
How did you start playing for Jungle Crows?
My friend, Ricardotold me about Jungle Crowsback in 2004, which was a new club then. I went with him to the maidan and met Paul (Walsh), Zaffar (Khan), Tudu (Sailen) and the other senior players, and started playing for the club.
Was there any difficulty you experienced in playing rugby?
There was hardly any difficulty.Paul would give us awards; within 3-4 months of joining, I was awarded the ‘Best Player of the Team’. However, injury was a big issue for me. I would dislocate my shoulders often but, I continued playing.
Which position did you play for?
I started with flanker, that’s number 7. In this position one has to tackle a lot, as a result I would often dislocate my shoulder. Then, Paul suggested that I should change to fly half,position number 10 - I feel it’s the best position.
Which places have you visited through rugby?
In 2008, I was the captain of Jungle Crows and had to travel to different places to play. I went to Mumbai, New Delhi, Jharkhand, and I have even played beach rugby in Orissa. Then I participated in the National Games in Guwahati where I played for the West Bengal team.
In 2010, I went to USA to complete my studies, through the Jungle Crows getting me onto the Community College scholarship program. I played for Old Puget Sound Beach RFC, one of the best 7s team in the States.
So, how and why did you shift to higher studies?
It’s all because of Paul and rugby. There was a new scholarship program, and Paul suggested Abhishek (Singh, then manager of Crows) and me to sign up for it. Initially, I wasn’t interested, as I was already involved with coaching and was even the captain for which I was getting paid. Paul convinced me to apply for this course. I got a call from the US embassy stating that my application had got selected. I then had to complete all my formalities, which included passing an English exam.Very few students in India get this scholarship. I luckily received it easily, only because of my association with rugby.
Since I was doing the certificate course in Hospitality and Tourism back then, I wentfor a year. I am going to USA again this month (March, 2015) to complete my Associate Degree programme in the same. Later on, I would like to pursue a Masters in it.
How did you get involved with coaching?
Till 2007, we were competing in all the tournaments but, weren’t getting the results and would lose in the initial stages. The boys in my batch wanted to win the tournaments. It’s then that I took charge and worked hard to make this team.
Ibegan coaching in 2008 and have worked with the senior boys’ and girls’ team of Jungle Crows. In the boys’ senior team, we have achieved a lot together- 3 Centenary cups (2008-2010), 2 Calcutta cups (2008 and 2010), we’ve been the runners up in all India 7s, and placed third in all India 15s. When I was the coach of the girls’ team, we won the all India championship thrice (2008-2010) and were the finalists once. I have worked with the under 20 teams, which were runners up in their respective tournaments. When I was coaching Maidan Hazards, we qualified for the All India Championships.
Along with this, I would even mentor the coaches of Khelo Rugby, like Nanda, Tiger and Arun.
When did you play your last rugby match?
I left rugby in 2012 to start my own business. I haven’t stopped playing and I am still associated with the club. Rugby is in my blood, I won’t ever stop playing. It has made me the person I am now. Whenever I get time, I help Paul, the team and the kids. In 2014, most of the boys had gone abroad either to study or for training... the team needed me, so I played a few games of the Centenary and Calcutta Cup.
What inspired you to start your own business?
I have always wanted to do something by myself, and I had the idea after the completion of my Degree program. I spoke to my brothers about it and they supported me and we decided to open up a small restaurant, ‘China Town’.
Talk through your day during the rugby season.
I eat light and sleep early. Our tournaments are generally held during summers, so it’s important to consume a lot of water. I mainly focus on the game those days... what are the moves, making my tackles, work on the game plan...
Any advice you would like to share with a new player?
I would suggest them to watch more games, and watch it carefully. That’s the best way to learn. I didn’t practice much, but would watch many games, which was of massive help.
Who has been your inspiration as far as rugby is concerned?
Amar Rai, my cousin (and former player of Crows) has been my inspiration... I have seen him play since I was a child. From the international players, Jonah Lomu is my favourite, and I have tried to emulate him and his playing style.
The most memorable moment in your rugby career...
In 2011, we had reached the Calcutta Cup finals, where I replaced Zaffar as the captain, since he was injured. We were the champions in that tournament. The best moment was when we were being presented the cup, and I had asked Zaffar to collect it as he had worked very hard for it.
How has your relationship with Paul Walsh been like?
I respect him a lot. Whatever I am today is all because of him and Jungle Crows. There were sometimes some problems between us, that’s life, but we’ve always got it sorted.
Who is the joker in Jungle Crows?
I am the joker. During practices and matches, I’m very strict; else am the funniest man in the team. I don’t like being a senior or someone serious, and I hang around with the boys a lot.I have pulled out many games and pranks, but they can’t be discussed.
Being a player, a coach, what do you think of the situation of rugby in India? And, what can be done to change it?
In India, the sport is not so popular. There’s no scope as such, mainly because the players don’t get paid. In other sports like cricket and football, the players get paid and recognized. But, with rugby, it’s not the same. When it comes to girls, they are also pressurized by their families to concentrate on other aspects of life; and they have a lesser chance of getting a job. Due to this, many players quit within 2-3 years of playing. And, this is something we’ve experienced in the club even.
The Government too should take initiative to recruit people through rugby; this will attract more to come and play.
Another problem that’s plaguing the growth of rugby is the lack of academy. There are hardly any academies for rugby in India; only 2 exist, our academy in Kolkata and the one in New Delhi by Delhi Hurricanes. It’s imperative to have academies to improve the skills of the players so that they can qualify for better and higher levels.
These academies should provide other facilities even like schools, good training field, more matches and tournaments, work opportunities, etc, so that both boys and girls can be trained from an early age and it opens more avenues for them later in life. Sponsorship is also necessary, for which companies and organizations should help.
What would be your ultimate achievement in rugby?
My ultimate achievement would be when the boys from Crows, who have played at the national level get a job through rugby. I have coached them at some point and I would be very happy to see them do well.