National C'ship: The curious tale of Railways and Services

When all along it was believed that the Indian Railways and Services (both men’s) teams would not participate in the recent Puducherry Senior National basketball championship, as the BFI had banned all the players who had taken part in the third edition of the UBA Pro League, the national federation made aU-turn on the eve of the event, allowing them to take part. Railways turned up, Services didn’t.

S. S. KUMAR

The men's quarter-finals between Punjab and Railways in progress in the Puducherry Nationals. Railways received a last-minute nod from the BFI for taking part.   -  S. S. KUMAR

Norman Isaac, Chairman, Technical Committee, Basketball Federation of India, appeared a hassled man on the first day of the Senior National basketball championships in Puducherry. When all along it was believed that the Indian Railways and Services (both men’s) teams would not participate as the BFI had banned all the players who had taken part in the third edition of the UBA Pro League, the national federation made a U-turn on the eve of the Nationals allowing Railways (just before midnight BFI gave the nod to Services, too) to take part.

Utter confusion prevailed the next day as the schedule had to be redone. Some teams, apparently, were not informed of the change in the schedule, causing heartburning among the coaches. “This is one of the worst Nationals I’ve seen,” fumed a coach, after having come to the Stadium for his team’s match only to be informed that the match timings had been changed.

Then it turned out that Services was not willing to take part. While BFI Secretary Chander Mukhi Sharma told Sportstar that Services had agreed to participate on the condition that those who took part in the UBA league would not come, the Services representative said that he hadn’t made any such promise, and that the team didn’t recognise BFI as it hadn’t got the approval from the Government of India.

While BFI lifted the ban on the UBA players midway in the championships, teams like Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Chhattisgarh were the losers as they had come without the ‘banned’ players.

What is clear is that BFI wanted to get even with Services as the latter did not send its players for any international tournament in the years when BFI under K. Govindaraj was fighting a battle with Poonam Mahajan, a BJP MP and Roopam Sharma, CEO, BFI (and wife of late Harish Sharma, former BFI Secretary) for getting Government recognition.

Incidentally, Poonam and Roopam hold important posts in the BFI run by Govindaraj. While Poonam is the President of the Maharashtra State Basketball Association, Roopam is the Secretary of the Delhi Basketball Association. And both their teams took part in the Senior Nationals.

The absence of Services, the 29-time men’s champion, made it easy for teams like Uttarakhand, Punjab and Tamil Nadu. With a team comprising quite a few India players, Services’ presence would have enlivened the proceedings giving the championships the much-needed glamour and intensity.

Though Services, the defending champion, initially did send its players for international tournaments under Govindaraj, once the World body (FIBA) failed to recognise basketball at the South Asian Games in February 2016 due to “unacceptable interference from the Indian Olympic Association”, Services became firm in its stand of not sending its players for international events.

Coaches, whom Sportstar spoke to, felt Services would have definitely made an impact. “They (Services) are the major powerhouse of Indian basketball. If there are no Railways and Services teams, there will, probably, be no basketball. But at the same time, I feel Services should have taken part in the Nationals even though it was communicated to them by BFI in the late hours. Of course, had Services taken part, the competition would have been high. It is really disappointing,” said Sudhir Hooda, the Indian Railways coach.

However, Stephen Antony, the head coach of Kerala, said Services couldn’t have gone on to win the Nationals had it participated given the fact that its players are over the hill. “I will say that the Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand teams were above average. Definitely, Services is not a great team. I believe that it would have, at the best, finished third.”

Now that the BFI has lifted the ban on all players who took part in the third edition of the UBA pro league and approved the fourth edition, it is clear that the Federation is on the right track. If it sorts out the recognition aspect with the Government, BFI’s work can begin in earnest.

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