BFI should mobilise all its re sources

M. C. RAMAN

PRASANNAKUMARI JAYASHANKAR, Pratibha Suryashekar and Nandini Gulvadi were not `contemporaries' in the literal sense of the word — their careers only overlapped here and there. But, they are united today in fighting for the cause of Indian women's basketball after being key players in the 1970s and 1980s when the women's game was at its best, matching the interest that the men's game evoked. With the standard of the game having crashed, the three want the Basketball Federation of India (BFI) to play a more proactive role in strengthening the sport.

"The Federation has to resurrect the All-India tournaments," says former Indian player Prasannakumari Jayashankar.-S. THANTHONI

Of the three, Nandini Gulvadi is the senior-most player. She represented Maharashtra from 1971 to 1982 and India in the ABC championship in Hong Kong in 1980. Pratibha Suryashekar played for India in four Asian Championships — in Manila in 1982 as a junior, and as a senior in Shanghai in 1984, Kula Lumpur in 1986 and Hong Kong in 1988. Pratibha, who was a brilliant three-point shooter, played for Maharashtra from 1982 to 1986 and then for Railways from 1987 to 1990. She represented India in the first Indira Gandhi International tournament in New Delhi in 1986 in which the host nation finished third and captained the country in the second edition of the tournament in Delhi in 1988. Prasannakumari Jayashankar — who is married to former international basketballer Jayashankar Menon of Indian Bank — is the first woman to represent India in five Asian Championships — Shanghai in 1984, Kuala Lumpur in 1986, Hong Kong in 1988, Singapore in 1990 and Seoul in 1992. She captained India in 1990 and also participated in two Indira Gandhi international tournaments in New Delhi. Prasannakumari has played in 12 Nationals — two times for Kerala and 10 times for the Railways.

The three committed women spoke exclusively to `The Sportstar'.

Question: In the 1970s and 1980s, the standard of women's basketball was very high. Where does it stand now?

Prasannakumari Jayashankar: Till the early 1990s, it was okay. The standard has come down now. In the 80s, we used to get talented girls for the camp to select Indian players. But, we hardly find good players now.

Nandini Gulvadi: The period between 1975 and 1990 was the golden age of Indian women's basketball. Players then were strong in basics. I played till 1992. There were not many job opportunities then. We loved the game, which is why we played. There is perceptible decline in standard now.

Pratibha Suryasekhar: It is time we raised the standard. Look at the gap between the top team — the Railways — and the others. There used to be so many strong State teams at the top previously — teams such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab and Bengal.

What are the reasons for the decline?

PJ: In the early 90s, women's basketball lost its momentum. Perhaps, it is due to too much emphasis on academics. Or due to the lack of interest caused by the poor record of the national team. Or because the girls started feeling that there is no future for them in the game. Now, there is only one ABC tournament at the Asian level.

NG: There is hardly any sponsor for the women's game. The last talented team we produced was the one that played in the Asian tournament in 1993-94 when Aparna Ghosh and Lynda played.

"I don't find total committment to the game now. The intensity of the 1980s is missing now," feels Pratibha Suryashekar.-S. THANTHONI

PS: I don't find players totally committed to the game. The passion and intensity of the 1980s is missing now.

Two or three teams have been dominating women's basketball for a long time, particularly the Railways, which ropes in all the talented players from the States. What is wrong with the States?

PJ: There must be sustained coaching camps in the States to achieve better results. Mostly, players are assembled hastily for the major events like the National Championship. For the boys, there are plenty of club tournaments, which help the young talented ones. But, the girls have very little and therefore the standard is not very high.

NG: The State associations must take more initiative. Take Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab, Kerala and Bengal. There was a talent flow from them for a long period. Now it has stopped. This is because there is a dearth of coaching schemes and tournaments. We played a lot of tournaments. My mother used to tell me during my playing days that she had to come to Bangalore or the South to see me.

What are the chances of India reaching the elite group in the Asian Championship?

PJ: We must have a long-term plan. Right now, somebody is coaching Indian players in the camp and somebody else is the coach. Can good results come with this approach? There must be total focus on the team's preparation and the quality of coaches must be high. The women's team can reach fourth or fifth position in Asia. They must also start a National league with eight to 10 teams. The standard is going down — even in Kerala it is difficult to get players for the Railways. The Federation has to resurrect the All-India tournaments. This season we had only six. Last year, it was only two. There was a time when we played in eight All-India tournaments in Kerala alone.

NG: There must be incentives for players. Men get some incentive, but women are being ignored completely. Discrimination is rampant in our system. Men and women teams go from the same State, but men stay in a hotel and the women are dumped in poor conditions.

"There is hardly any sponsor for the women's game," says Nandini Gulvadi.-S. THANTHONI

PS: We can definitely reach a higher position if there isn't discrimination in selection. You can't have a bias in favour of Delhi and Punjab players. The selection must be based on merit and the preparation should be well co-ordinated. We have to go a long way for that.

For about 20 years, the Arjuna Award was not given to any women players. After Suman Sharma got it in the early 1980s, we had to wait till Aparna Ghosh received it recently. How do you react to this?

NG: At least 10 players should have got the Award during the intervening period. A generation of players was ignored completely. Players like Ananthalakshmi, Nandini Prasad, Priscilla, Leelamma Thomas, Lynda D' Souza, Gurshimran Laddi, Kanwaljith Bath, Ashi Sharma, Shoba Puthran, Kulwinder Kaur and of course Prasannakumari and Pratibha. It was totally demoralising. When you are treated like this you don't feel like continuing even if you have some more years of game in you.

PJ: We are all happy that Aparna Ghosh got it after a long time. It has given some hope.

PS: Sometime, when we think about these things, we feel like starting our own Federation. The focus on Delhi and Punjab alone is also not good.

If you take away Railway players, there is nothing much to talk about in terms of talent. How many women in the country have real talent?

NG: Probably not more than 100. During our period, the bench used to be strong and could match the skills of the top players. But now the bench is weak. The gap between the Railways and the others is shocking. If you want to select for international tournaments you may struggle to get even about 25 talented players.

What do you think about the recent performance of the BFI?

PJ: We accept that something is happening now than before. The Indian team has gone to Malaysia and there is some exposure. But this is not enough. The BFI must mobilise all its financial and human resources. There are experienced players down South who can coach. Indian basketball is not Delhi and Punjab alone.