Ignoring the nation’s sports icons

Bollywood star Aamir Khan poses with a replica of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Torch.-AP

For the second time in succession, the IOA missed a rare opportunity to honour and parade some of India’s greatest sportsmen.

Security considerations might have forced the Union Government and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to make the kind of arrangements that kept the public away during the Olympic Torch relay in the Capital. What was not understandable was the inability of the IOA to identify India’s sports icons to carry the torch.

There was no harm in having a few non-sports personalities included in the sponsors’ list. But did the sportspersons, chosen by the IOA, meet the criteria prescribed by the Beijing Games organisers for the torch-bearers? “No” is the answer on both counts.

The general criteria included “upholding the Olympic spirit” and “supporting the Beijing Olympic Games”. But the sole criterion concerning the selection of a sports personality says, the person should “be distinguished for contributions to the Olympic Movement or for extraordinary performance at past Olympic Games.”

Three such personalities were available in Delhi, but they were not called. Sriram Singh, one of the finest athletes India has produced, a finalist in the 800 metres in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, was hoping to get a call, but it never came. Sriram still holds the National record of 1:45.77 that he set in the final in Montreal.

At the same Games, Hari Chand set another National record, that of 28:48.72 in the 10,000 metres that has remained intact. He too was ignored. Both Sriram and Hari Chand are also double gold medal winners in the Asian Games. Then there was R. S. Bhola, the hockey veteran of the 1956 Melbourne Games where India won the gold and Rome Olympics where India took the silver.

Another athlete who was available in Delhi and who could easily have been accommodated was Praveen Kumar. The small screen’s Bheem is a double gold medallist in discus in the Asian Games and a silver winner in hammer in the Commonwealth Games.

There were others too who could have been included, Prakash Padukone, Ramanathan Krishnan, Ramesh Krishnan, V. Baskaran, Pargat Singh, Ashok Kumar, Mohammed Shahid, P. K. Banerjee, Chuni Goswami, Michael Ferreira and Pankaj Advani to name just a few among those who were ignored.

Of the 70 runners scheduled to run, including sponsors’ nominees, only 68 made it eventually. For a 2.3km stretch, on Rajpath, this number itself was far too many. And yet, when you go through the list you find many of them do not have an Asian Games gold medal. Not many of them could have claimed that their contribution to the Olympic Movement was greater than some of the legends included in the list above.

Though many a top sports personality was invited, the IOA missed a rare opportunity to honour and parade some of India’s greatest sportsmen. For the second time in succession, that is.

* * * Providing the light effect

Mark Boucher with compere Mandira Bedi at the Bangalore Royal Challengers' fashion parade.-PTI

A strange mix of catwalk and cricketers had a surprised audience cheering for more in Bangalore recently. With the city’s IPL team, Royal Challengers, signing up Madura Garments’ Louis Philippe brand for its range of formal, informal and evening wear, Rahul Dravid’s men walked the ramp as part of a promotional event.

Sports presenter Mandira Bedi conducted the function and her queries drew a range of answers. The best though was Dravid’s jocular comment about Twenty20 cricket. Mandira asked: “If one-dayers are pyjama cricket, what’s Twenty20?” The Royal Challengers’ skipper replied, “Hmm…, I guess we can call it bikini cricket.”

Dravid’s team-mates also had their share of queries. Zaheer Khan was asked when he would get married, to which he replied: “I am focussed on cricket.” Mandira then pointed out to the married players and asked, “You mean these guys aren’t focussed?” Zaheer was stumped, but managed to wriggle out saying, “they are doubly focussed.”

While Cameron White was asked about the cheer leaders — “pretty girls in little clothes,” as Mandira put it — the Aussie said, “It’s always nice, isn’t it?”

Among the others, Ross Taylor spoke about his secret ambition of becoming a chicken farmer in New Zealand, while Shivnarine Chanderpaul had the gathering in splits when he said, “I saw my favourite Shah Rukh Khan at the Chinnaswamy Stadium but he was jumping up and down and I was almost tempted to go up to him and say ‘please take your seat’.”

Referring to the team’s clothing, Jacques Kallis admitted, “I am a shorts and t-shirt guy, but these clothes are fine.”

Amidst the bevy of stars, Virat Kohli held his own space as he danced down the ramp. The Karnataka combine of Sunil Joshi, J. Arun Kumar, B. Akhil, Devraj Patil and K. P. Appanna also walked the ramp and some of them were accompanied by a cheerleader.

* * * Gearing up for the games

V. V. KRISHNAN

World champion Abhinav Bindra may not have been in great form when he shot 592 out of 600 to finish seventh in the recent Asian Air Gun Shooting Championship in Nanjing, China. But then he is taking every possible step to be at his best during the Olympic Games in Beijing in August. Incidentally, it will be the third Olympics for the 25-year-old shooter who had done remarkably well to make the final at the Athens Games in 2004 but was unlucky to miss out on a medal.

In collaboration with the Mittal Champions Trust, Abhinav has hired a mind analyst, Timothy Harkness of South Africa, as part of his preparations for the Beijing Olympics.

“Ideally one would like to gradually step up the form to be at one’s best when it matters the most. It cannot be planned though. You are always trying to shoot a 10 and you are always trying to win,” said Abhinav the other day at his private shooting range, located at his family’s farm house at Zirakpur, near Chandigarh.

Abhinav is confident that he would soon be reaping the rewards of all the hard work that he is putting into his preparations for the Olympics. He is taking care of every possible detail, from physical fitness to mental toughness.

* * * Basketball is the winner

H. VIBHU

Sitting along with a couple of journalists at the J. J. Indoor Stadium in Chennai, in the presence of A. N. Dyaneswaran, Chief Patron and Chairman of the Tamil Nadu Basketball Association (TNBA), the star player S. Robinson appeared to be a chastened man.

The last 16 months, since the TNBA imposed a ban on him, have been difficult for Robinson. And he seemed to have learnt his lessons. So, when Dyaneswaran officially announced that Robinson’s ban had been revoked, the player stood up, walked up to the TNBA Chairman and touched his feet, saying “Thank you, sir.”

The irony wasn’t lost on those present at the indoor stadium, for during his ban Writers BC took Robinson under its wing and helped the former India player fight his battle.

Writers BC challenged Robinson’s ban in the court. Meanwhile, Robinson too didn’t remain silent, making statements against TNBA to the media. But somewhere along the way, Writers and Robinson fell apart owing to some misunderstanding.

Left in the lurch, Robinson approached TNBA and even issued an unconditional apology. After much deliberation, TNBA reinstated him, subject to the condition that his conduct should be above board.

Basketball lovers say Robinson’s comeback will bring back the interest in the sport. With Indian Overseas Bank successfully getting Robinson back into its fold and the Indian Professional League set to begin in October, basketball is in the news for the right reasons.

By K.P. Mohan, K.C. Vijaya Kujmar, Kamesh Srinivasan & K. Keerthivasan