‘In the last 12 years, nothing has changed’

Sanjay Kumar… if money comes, quality will automatically improve.-

“We are in no way inferior to the European players. I strongly feel that if we have better facilities, we can do better at the international level,” says Sanjay Kumar Phogat, who is one of India’s best spikers. By K. Keerthivasan.

Sanjay Kumar Phogat, one of India’s finest spikers, lamented the state of volleyball players in the country. “When we go for international tournaments, we don’t have a video analyst, a physiotherapist or a doctor. Despite repeated requests to the National federation, nothing seems to happen,” said the 31-year-old Arjuna Award winner, who was in Chennai recently to play in the National Club Volleyball Championship.

The only bright spot, according to Sanjay, is the players’ desire to compete and their unbridled love for the sport.

In an interview to Sportstar, Sanjay, an employee of HSIIDC (Haryana State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation), spoke of his special moments, his triumphs and disappointments.

Question: How has Indian volleyball changed from the time you joined the National team nearly 12 years ago?

Answer: One of the positive things, I should say, is players want to change a lot of things. There are no proper medical facilities, no video analysts etc. Of course, we need more exposure by playing in European countries. We are in no way inferior to the European players — I can say this with confidence, as I have played with them. I strongly feel that if we have better medical facilities, we can do better at the international level. During the last Asian Championship in Tehran, Naveen Jacob Raja, who was playing very well, was injured in a match. But nobody took care (of him). A Korean coach helped him. You know why we lost to Brazil in the 2003 World Youth Championship even though we beat them in the league match. They had a video analysis of every Indian player and they prepared accordingly for the final.

Do you think India needs more exposure trips?

Yes. The exposure trips we have had so far are not enough. On an average, there are five to six tours. Last year, we played only three tournaments abroad. When I saw Iran play in 2001, it was not among the top teams. Today, Iran is the No. 1 team in Asia. It plays in the Word Championships and the Olympics.

I will not blame our players. They do what the Volleyball Federation of India asks them to do.

You have been playing for India for the last 12 years. How has it been?

It has been somewhat satisfying, personally. But when you see the last 12 years, nothing has changed. That is very sad. As a senior player, I have asked many times for a video analyst and better medical facilities. The Federation’s response has been ‘we don’t have money’ and other such excuses. I want to make one thing clear: I am not blaming anybody, but only pointing out certain aspects that have not done any good for the sport in India.

How was Indian Volleyball League? You represented Karnataka Bulls in the first edition in 2010…

As a concept, IVL is good to improve Indian volleyball, but we need to conduct it regularly. There is no need to conduct the National Championship, Federation Cup and the National Club Championship. All we have to do is conduct a 5-month IVL with some foreign players. Seven months will be enough for India commitments. Playing with foreign Players will definitely improve our physical fitness.

Strike force... Sanjay Kumar (right) of Haryana smashes past the Railway block in the National Championship in January this year. He is one of India's best players in the universal position.-ROHIT JAIN PARAS

Coming to the financial aspect of IVL, did the players benefit from it?

In IVL, there is little money. A player gets Rs. 10,000-20,000 for all the four phases put together, depending on whether he is an Indian or a foreigner. A senior India player gets Rs. 20,000 while a junior India player receives Rs. 10,000.

So, you don’t see a bright future?

We do have a very bright future, but we need to get better facilities. Volleyball is an indoor sport, but in India, we generally play outdoors. Volleyball has to be improved at the ground level; its base should be made strong. In boxing and badminton, we have sponsors, so why not in volleyball? Please don’t blame the players. How will they perform if they don’t have the facilities?

How did you deal with your injuries?

During the National League in Hassan (2004), I injured my right shoulder. For one and a half years, I did not play. My comeback match was during the 2006 SAF Games in Sri Lanka where India won the tournament. The injury phase was difficult. It was my department (HSIIDC) that helped me. They took great care of me. I am grateful to HSIIDC.

What were your memorable events?

There are lots of them. We won a silver medal in the 2003 World Youth Championship in Suphanburi (Thailand) and a bronze in the Asian Youth Championship the same year in Vizag. I was adjudged the Most Valuable Player in Vizag and I got the best blocker award in Thailand. In the World Championship, my ranking was No. 2 among the 15-16 ‘universals’. The Arjuna Award I won in 2011 should obviously be the most memorable one. All my family members had come (for the award function). I cherish beating Pakistan in Pakistan in the 2004 SAF Games final. In 2007, I got the best scorer award in the Commonwealth Championship in Kolkata. And in the 2010 Asian Championship in Iran, I got the best scorer award. Not many in Indian volleyball have won these awards (all official).

Your biggest regret?

It has to be the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. I cried the whole night. I don’t want to talk now about what led to our defeat and point fingers. We lost to Thailand. If we had beaten them, 100 per cent we would have won a medal.

How did you get into volleyball since you come from Bhiwani District, which is known for producing boxers?

In my village — Makrana — there are many volleyball players; we had seven coaches at that time. My brothers, Ranbir Singh and Vijender Singh, had represented Services in volleyball. I followed them. When I was in school, Hira Lal (he is 75 years old now) introduced me to volleyball. He gave life to volleyball in our district. I later joined the SAI hostel in Bhiwani in 1999. In 2001, I represented Haryana in the junior Nationals in Gurgaon. The same year, I played in the Indian team at the Asian Championship in Korea.

You had a successful stint in the Iran League...

From 2007 to 2009, I played for clubs in the UAE such as Al Jazeera and Al Ajman. Then from 2010, I played in Iran for Pers Polise. I continue to play for Iran’s Kalleh Club. I should say that Iran League is one of the best. Very soon, it will be the best. Now many players want to play in the Iran League. If money comes, quality will automatically improve.

What is your assessment of the current crop of players?

There are many who want to enter the Indian team. There are some top quality players such as Vaishnav, Sube Singh, Gurvinder Singh, Anup D’Costa and Navjet Singh.