Back in the loop

The victorious Kerala men.-

The decision of the Volleyball Federation of India to re-introduce the Federation Cup tournament, which was thought to have been shelved for good, was seen by both players and officials as a positive step. A. Vinod takes stock.

One of the prestigious events in the Indian volleyball calendar from 1978 to 2003, the Federation Cup, at its recent re-launch, proved to be a profitable outing for host Kerala what with its men’s and women’s sides making it a grand double.

While Kerala men added their crown to the back-to-back National titles won by the State in the last two years by taming Tamil Nadu in a hotly-contested final, it was smooth sailing all the way for the home side in the women’s section in the four-team round-robin league.

The eight-day event, held at remote Pramadom in Pathanamthitta district, indeed was an outright success as fans filled the Rajiv Gandhi indoor stadium to the brim. The action, at least in the men’s section, was exciting.

True, the class which helped India to do well, particularly at the youth level, through the early part of the last decade, might have taken a dip in the recent years. And as such the decision of the Volleyball Federation of India to re-introduce the tournamentwas seen by both players and officials as a positive step.

When the National Volleyball League was introduced, the Federation Cup was killed. Now, curiously, the National Volleyball League is history and the Federation Cup could well be a means to fill the void at least for the time being.

The triumphant Kerala women.-

“Stop-gap or not, this is quite a boon for the players,” said former International and team manager of the Uttarakhand, Anil Sood, when asked about the relevance of the tournament, conducted barely a few weeks after the senior Nationals in January. “In India, we have very few tournaments and what players can look forward to after strenuous training through a year is the Nationals. So, ideally, this is another platform for them to ply their trade and catch the attention of the selectors. ”

The ideal way forward, according to Sood, is to have the Nationals, the Federation Cup and if things like sponsorships fall in place a well-defined inter-Club tournament at the national level. “A majority of the members of my team here belong to the club being run by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). Besides recruiting players from the various regions of the country, ONGC is also involved in the development of talent at the local level. Hence, it would be great to have an inter-club tournament for the company to get some mileage in the media and thereby the public from time to time. ” Tom Joseph, who has been a regular in the Indian side through the last decade and more and the only player in the current edition to have played in the tournament in 2003, also sounded positive on the re-launch of the tournament.

“Yes, it is a vehicle which would help Indian volleyball gain better standard in the long run. But the prize-money structure should be reworked appropriately (to attract players)." This point was also endorsed by P. K. Dinesh, who played a key role in Services’ win over eventual champion Kerala in the league stage.

Former International and Arjuna Award winner, K. Udayakumar, a member of the bronze medal-winning Indian team at the 1986 Seoul Asian Games, also seemed impressed by the overall show in the tournament. “When compared with the past, I think that most teams have improved greatly in the defence. And this is a welcome change as the country as such can benefit on the international stage in the long run,” he said.

Yet, a jarring note was the absence of Railways in both the sections. “This is in tune with the decision of the Railways Sports Control Board not to field teams in any event other than the Nationals,” said Tournament Director and former International, G. E. Sreedharan.

The absence of Railways did have a direct impact in the women’s competitions more than in the men’s section. With the champion side keeping away, the women’s competitions were short of class.