5 sports in India that should have their own leagues

Sarah Waris

18th April, 2008- Kolkata Knight Riders take on Royal Challengers Bangalore in a first of its kind cricket match being held in the country.No, this wasn’t yet another domestic match, where you would expect to see the unknown local player sweating it out in the park, hoping to get noticed and make his way into the national team.This match was different. It saw the likes of Sourav Ganguly rubbing shoulders with Brendom McCullum as they took on a team captained by Indian great Rahul Dravid.McCullum’s blitzkrieg where he amassed 158* runs, playing for the Shahrukh Khan owned KKR, was just the ideal launch pad needed for the Indian Premier League, which would soon change the way sports was viewed in India.The IPL, modelled along the successful English Premier League, gave the youngsters a chance to rub shoulders with the ‘whose who’ in the world of cricket. Initially dismissed off as a league which only provided entertainment, the IPL soon caught on and became one of the most successful leagues around the world.Now, no longer did you have a totally inexperienced player making his debut for the nation and very soon the advantages of such a league overshadowed the criticisms.It wasn’t long before other sports associations in India took note and in a bid to provide the players with vital international exposure, leagues in various sports became the trend.Soon Hockey India, Badminton Association of India, Kabaddi Federation of India, All India Tennis Association and recently the All India Football Federation all started roping in international stalwarts, thus providing a platform for the youngsters to impress and more importantly gain exposure.The leagues, all based on a city format, started attracting sponsors, not only giving the current crop of players a chance to train with better facilities, but also provided incentives to budding sportsmen to take up the game. It also helped the Indian coaches improve their standard so they could match up to the international experts.The Hockey India League, which featured over 50 international athletes was termed an important milestone for the sport by International Hockey President Leandro Negre, aftrer the game in the country had pummelled to great lows in the recent past. Captain Sardar Singh, who led his team to the silver and gold medals in the Commonwealth and Asian Games respectively, did not hesitate in saying, “We have been playing for long, but we have learnt a lot by just observing the international players and it has definitely helped us.”Recently, the ongoing Indian Super League has caught the fancy of the nation and there is no denying that playing alongside World Cup winners like Del Piero will do the youngsters a world of good. Nita Ambani, chairperson of the ISL, hopes that the league will overhaul football in India and bring about a football revolution in the country. The main aim, she says is to see the country participate in the FIFA World Cup one day.Recently reports were rife that Basketball Federation of India may join hands with IMG-Reliance to organise a franchise based league. NBA India Managing Director Yannick Colaco is excited at the prospect and says, “the NBA is ready to extend all co-operation to help the game grow in the country.”The first season of the much awaited International Premier Tennis League and the Champions Tennis League latyer this month will see a mix of international and national tennis stars battle it out for their respective farnchises and seeing the trend it can safely be said that such tournaments have done more good than harm to Indian sports.Here’s looking at 5 sports in India which should come up with their own leagues, which would benefit the players in the long run.NOTE: Shooting was given consideration, but the expensive equipment it requires and a wide number of alternative events went against the sport making this list.

#1 Boxing

Despite the heroics of boxer MC Mary Kom, it was Vijender Singh’s bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics which brought the sport of boxing into the limelight. Over the next few years, the pugilists dished out some consistent performances, winning two gold medals in the 2010 CWG held in Delhi and following it up with nine medals, including three gold, in the Asian Games held the same year.

2012 was the first time women’s boxing was making an entry into the Olympics and 5 times world champion Mary Kom did the nation proud by bagging bronze. Although the Indians couldn’t win the yellow medal at the Glasgow Games earlier this year, they still had 3 silver medals to show for. Mary Kom ended the Asian Games in Incheon by bagging gold, taking the medal tally in boxing to 5.

Excluding these events, the Indians have consistently performed well in the world championships, with Devendra Singh and Shiv Thapa both ranked number 3 in their respective weight categories.

However, despite their successes, the boxers have to live in oblivion as far as financial aid is concerned. The Indian Government had promised 4 World Cup winners in 2008 a cash prize of Rs. 5 lakh each, after Akhil Kumar, Jitender Kumar, Anthresh Lakhra and Dinesh Kumar clinched medals at the World Championships in Moscow, but till date, the promised sum is still pending.

Many youngsters in the rural areas take up the game as a means to overcome poverty as relative success in the game would ensure a Government job for the players. However Mary Kom has not received a job till date, and often the young boxers have to give up the game due to lack of financial security.

A boxing league, along the lines of the Pro-Kabaddi League, will not only help in promoting the sport, but will provide an incentive to the youngsters to carry on with the game.

The broadcasters for the HIL pumped in almost 1500 crore for the next 8 years, with the Winner’s cheque promises a whopping 2.5 crore. A similar inflow of money into the game of boxing will ensure youngsters don’t give up on the sport even if they can’t get into the national team.

Often Vijender Singh is seen headed to countries like Cuba and Germany in preparation for world events, as by his own admission “the facilities offered in India will not produce champions.”

With the formation of a league and the participation of world class boxers and coaches, there is no denying that the Indians would greatly benefit just by sharing the same dressing room with them. Also, such a league would help the Indians in adapting themselves better to the rule changes that take place in the game, be it the new scoring system or playing without headgears.

Boxing leagues in UK and USA have been a major success and following their footsteps, the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation came up with the idea of the Indian Boxing League, which was to go on floors in 2011 and would have ensured almost 500 crore in the sport within 5 years. But, lack of sponsorship led to its cancellation.

Manoj Kumar, gold medallist in the 2010 CWG however awaits such a league and is hopeful that the presence of international coaches along with the money offered will go a long way in benefitting the sport in the country.

#2 Wrestling

Like boxing, wrestling is a game taken up by the youngsters of rural areas in the hope of gaining financial security.

Like boxing, that is not always the case, but just like the boxers, the grapplers too do not let these obstacles get in the way when it comes to winning medals for India.

Sushil Kumar became the first wrestler from the country in the Beijing Olympics to bag a bronze medal, before following it up with silver in the next edition of the Games. Freestyle wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt too clinched bronze in London, thus paving the way for the formation of the Indian Wrestling League (IWL), a league organised by the Wrestling Federation of India.

The main purpose of the league, as G.S. Mander, chairmain of the IWL points out, was to cash in on the popularity aroused by the wrestlers in the international tournaments. He was hopeful that with impressive performances in the Olympics and the World Championships, where the nation returned with 2 medals in 2012 and a historic 4 medals the following year, more and more people would be willing to take up the game.

Even in the recently concluded CWG, all the wrestlers came home with a medal and managed 5 medals in the Asian Games that followed.

The IWL, after many postponements was to be held in November this year, but lack of enthusiasm from the southern and eastern states as well as the absence of big sponsors have put the league on hold, but Mander is hopeful that just like the other leagues, a wrestling event will go a long way in identifying talent from the grassroot level, who with proper guidance can do India proud.

#3 Table tennis

Table tennis, for long considered an indoor recreational sport in the country, has not been able to create waves in international events like Olympics or the World Championships (where the Indians returned empty handed this year), but there is no denying the talent possessed by the players.

India, currently ranked 30th in the world, has managed to produce only a single player in the top 50, Bengals Sharath Kamal, who won gold at the 2006 Doha CWG and later clinched mens gold in Delhi. The table tennis contingent clinched 5 medals in 2010 in front of the home crowd, but could manage only a silver in the recent Games held in Glasgow.

Players like Ankita Das and Poulami Ghatak, along with Manika Batra and Madhurika Patkar in the womens team event lost the bronze medal match in Glasgow, losing 1-3 to the Australians.

At the National Games held earler this year, Soumyajit Ghosh became the youngest mens champion when he defeated Kamal and K. Shamini grabbed the top spot by defeating Ghatak. Neha Aggarwal is yet another talented youngster to watch out for, and if presented with adequate facilities and guidance, they can be worthy challengers in the world stage.

Table Tennis England formed the British League in the country, which has improved the state of table tennis in the country and a league in India will go a long way in attracting youngsters to the game.

#4 Archery

All eyes were on the Lords cricket stadium during the London Olympics in 2012. No, the Men in Blue werent out in the field, but rather the Indian Archery Contingent was battling it out in the cold, windy conditions in England.

Expectations were high and it would be no exaggeration if we said that the country was looking forward to at least 3 medals in the sport.

Yes, the Koreans had to be defeated and yes, the conditions were unfamiliar, but the Indian team had world champion Deepika Kumari along with experienced Rahul Banerjee, Bombayla Devi and Tarundeep Rai in their ranks.

Yet, they fell short, returning with not even one medal to their name.

Biggest disappointment of the Olympic Games? Can be said so!

Soon after, Kumari was forthright in her admission when she stated that pressure got the better of her. I have played in windier places, but I just could not control my nerves. I am very disappointed, she claimed after losing 2-6 in the round of 64.

In a sport like archery where mental conditioning and concentration is as important (if not more) than the skills possessed, a league in the sport with the presence of the Korean and Japanese archers would go a long way in helping the Indian team prepare for world events.

Before the Asian Games this year, the Indian team travelled to Korea almost a month before the event started and trained with current champion Korean Ki Bo Bae. This proved a master stroke as the team returned with 4 medals, including gold in the mens compound team event.

A league in archery will not only help the players stay up to date with the latest innovations in the game, but will also prevent them from faltering at the big stage, due to lack of exposure. Recently, the World Archery came up with the new scoring system, where the position of the arrows was defined by optical solutions, and a league would ensure that youngsters are aware of the latest changes from the very beginning.

The Tata Archery Academy in Jamshedpur offers best facilities to the archers, and if the sponsors are willing to pool in the money, there is no denying that the Indians would be worthy competitors for the Koreans.

#5 Squash

Dipika Pallikal, Joshna Chinappa and Sourav Ghosal have been the flag bearers for Indian squash for well over a decade. The Indians did well in the limited opportunities presented to them, with Ghosal bagging bronze in the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games, along with a team bronze in Guangzhou. He created history when he clinched silver in the recently concluded Incheon Games and helped India win its first gold in the sport in the mens team event.

Pallikal and Chinappa became the first womens team to win gold in Glasgow and Dipika signed off with a bronze at Incheon.

The squash contingent came home with 4 medals from Korea, its best ever tally at the Games and they would hope to replicate their performance in the World Championships, being held later this month.

Squash is currently not an Olympic game but that has not deterred Britain from forming the Premier Squash League. Dipika is hopeful that the non inclusion of squash in the Olympics will be no hindrance for the youngsters. It is disappointing that squash isnt an Olympic sport yet, but the Squash Racquets Federation is doing a great job promoting the game and I encourage people to take up the sport.

Sans their coach Cyrus Poncha, who was given a cold shoulder by the federation in the CWG, the athletes put up commendable performances and a league in the sport will encourage youngsters to continue with squash, even though it doesnt have a bright future as an Olympic sport.

Edited by Staff Editor


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