For the love of the game

April 4, 2012 (sometime at night)

The flu season is here. The newspaper is full of reports about this bug called IPL* that seems to have infected thousands, if not millions of people. A few years ago, I too, had been a victim of this bug. It had crippled me during evenings. I couldn’t move out of the couch and would get into a fit every now and then, which would set my pulse racing.

I am happy to report, that I have since, become immune. Although the front page, back page, and practically every page in between, was covered with ‘news’ about the opening ceremony, I found it easy to ignore them.

In the middle of all these reports, one article, stood out like a sore thumb. It was about an archer who had won several titles for the country in the recent past**. She revealed that during her stay at the academy, she was paid a ‘stipend’ of Rupees 500. Her family is living in poverty. To make ends meet, she sold a silver bow for a song. The saving grace for this lady was that it caught the attention of someone who reported it.

Cricket is a popular sport in the country. Why? I don’t know. Those who make it big even for a short while can live a luxurious life. And so every kid wants to become a cricketer. And every business house wants to sponsor them.

* * *

There is a sports complex nearby. On week days, children attend football coaching sessions there. At the end of the session, they run away from the ground like prisoners escaping from jail. Some of the older kids lean on trees at the edge of the park wearing large headphones, sipping sports drinks. Sometimes, I wonder if they really play because they want to, or because it looks cool.

As the week draws to an end, I am reminded about what’s in store for the next two days.

On week ends, the park has a different story to tell. It becomes a training ground for professional rugby players of the local club. They come early in the morning and spend several hours running and playing.

A certain energy engulfs the ground when they run and pass the ball. The energy is contagious. People, out on their morning walks, seem to walk faster, and the joggers put in extra miles.

The players train for national events, most of them, hoping to make it to the national team. The sport probably does not give them a handsome pay cheque. And it doesn’t get any dedicated columns in newspapers and magazines. But the players still play – because they love the game.

* * *

*IPL – Indian premier league – a deadly mixture of money, politics, business, glamour and cricket.

**Poverty forces former archer to sell bow


A Game Apart

My brother and I attended an event, and it was a great experience. Writing about it, has, however, been rather challenging. This post is an attempt to write about the pleasant time we had, but I found myself hitting the backspace key more often that I would have liked. I hope this post conveys the message I intend it too!

A little over a year back, we attended a rugby 7’s match. It was during the Commonwealth Games. As far as I can remember, we had to buy tickets, wait in long queues, undergo heavy security checking, had to ‘deposit’ any coins we had, and were not allowed to carry video cameras. The ground was lush green, there were two giant screens, and there was excitement in the air. We managed to get good seats and saw international athletes play at close range. We had a wonderful experience.

Fast forward to this afternoon. We went for a rugby match.

The Venue : A Local Ground

Entry was free, there were no security checks, we could sit wherever we wanted, and after the match we could even enter the field.

About two years back, the ground was barren, slums lined its perimeter, and there were at least two large wild pigs. But today, the grass was green and the slums were out of sight (I’m sure there are still a few left, though I couldn’t see them). The ground had nets, goal posts and chalk markings. There was even a temporary stand for the audience. The local ground was no longer just a piece of land, it was a full fledged sports complex. The transformation wasn’t overnite. And it was a pleasant surprise.

The Event : All India Club Sevens Championship

Yes, that’s correct. It was a national event, with teams from all over the country participating! There were no journalists covering the event, no glamourous stars. There was one official photographer, who happened to be a player for the host team’s full rugby squad.

The experience of today’s match was quite different to the international match we witnessed last year. But the modest surrroundings and the low-profile nature of the event did not take anything away from the competition. The quality of the games was very high. The ambience was definitely not as noisy as a high profile international event, but there was good humour all around, and a small section of the crowd cheered the local team.

The presence of international players added some colour to the tournament (no pun intended), and the ‘local’ hero, Pierre stole the event as he danced with some of the kids at the end of the match.
Players going to meet the Coach
As for me, I had the opportunity of standing in the middle of the ground after the match, as the players were moving off the field, towards their coach. It was the kind of view only a person wielding a camera, can have the privilege of experiencing in a professional match.

And it was the pleasure that I could experience today, standing next to my brother. Now where else can one get that!

Rugby is a minor sport in India. For a long time, it was only associated with a Hindi Cinema Actor (who was formerly the captain of the National Team). India currently ranks 75, out of 95 teams in the IRB World rankings.

The state of the sport in the country is best left for professionals to explain. From an ordinary person’s view though, I hope the tide is turning.

While I don’t have much knowledge about rugby, it seems that the sport is beginning to receive some attention. Although there wasn’t any media coverage, the event was sponsored by Harley-davidson motorcycles, United Colors of Benetton, Fox Traveller, and Kingfisher.

The tournament here made me curious enough to find out a little about rugby in India, and it felt good to know that sponsors are beginning to step forward, and the game is developing at the grass-roots level.

Photograph by R. Karthik.