Memorable in many ways

IT was a fiesta laced with fervour, feeling and fantasy, with a generous measure of nostalgia thrown in when the first awards event of the Hero Indian Sports Academy was launched in New Delhi. Touted as the Indian version of the more famous Laureus World Sports Academy annual presentation held in the romantic ambience of Monte Carlo, the function, at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium was inspiring, innovative and iridescent, even if there were a few avoidable irritants surfacing. Yet, the evening was memorable in more than one sense.

On view was the galaxy of Indian sportsmen and women, each a gem in his/her area of sporting activity. Can there be a greater spectacle to transport you down the labyrinth of introspection than witnessing on stage such celebrities as Kapil Dev, the Chairman of HISA, P. K. Bannerjee, Jaideep Mukerjea, P. T. Usha, Pargat Singh, Vikramjit Singh, Micheal Ferreira, and Meherwan Daruwala, to mention a few, rubbing shoulders with the youthful brigade that constitute the essence of Indian sport today? Just add to this heady mixture, the presence of Sunil Gavaskar, Nawab of Pataudi, Salman Khan, Shekar Suman, Diya Mirza, Shankar Mahadevan and Shilpa Shetty and the current cricketing icons, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, Parthiv Patel and Zaheer Khan. Well, you can conceive on the mind's eye what the scene might have been. The enchanting panorama would be incomplete without mentioning the participation of the two international legends, Edwin Moses and Ian Botham, both representing the Laureus World Sports Academy.

What needs to be acknowledged here without flinching is the concept behind the venture. It is aimed mainly at giving sports other than cricket a deserving status, a recognition to the stars, who bring glory and laurels but go unnoticed in the media. True, the Government does take note now and then, but the fact that these outstanding men and women have a genuine feeling of alienation from the mainstream cannot go without being said. The inspiring speech of Shekar Suman, laced with inimitable wit and candour underscored the importance that needs to be given to achievers in other sports.

That a cricketing star such as Kapil Dev has taken this initiative along with the dynamic industrialist and sportsman, Pawan Mujnal of the Hero Group, to bring into focus disciplines other than cricket is in itself a testimony to the former Indian captain's commitment and concern, which he sees as a social obligation.

Outlining the whole idea of heading a council such as the HISA, Kapil stated that the intention was not to rival anyone or any institution. The motivation was purely to provide filip and sources of encouragement to sportspersons who have contributed and continued to do so to the vast Indian canvas. He felt a little bit embarrassed too by his own nomination and approval for the Life Time Achievement award aside from Milka Singh, P. T. Usha and Leslie Claudius, who are said to have figured in the list of nominations. Edwin Moses echoed a similar sentiment, underlining the ethos of World Sports Academy he heads, and how happy he was to seeing the launch of an Indian section with the generous sponsorship of the Hero Group, headed by Pawan Munjal.

Interestingly, the awards of the best sportsman and woman went to non-cricketers, though Rahul Dravid was named the Cricketer of the Year. It was a pity that Viswanathan Anand could not be present. But none deserved the honour among the women more than Anjali Bhagwat, who cornered both the awards for the best shooter as also the best woman sportsperson of 2002. Her credentials to wear this mantle are enormous. Suffice it to say, this housewife and mother, working with CISF, has already acquired a berth for the Olympics in Athens. As though to celebrate the recognition, the charming shooter gave the country its first ever gold in a World Cup recently.

There was also a poignant side when HISA showed its appreciation and concern to the ailing former World billiards champion, Wilson Jones and acknowledged the contribution to table tennis by the late Vilas Menon. Long distance swimmer, Bula Chowdhry, came in for Special Appreciation for her achievements of crossing channels at different points of the globe. In a brief acknowledgement to the recognition conferred, Bula promised to add more to her cap — the Palk Straits.

The side shows, which concluded with the powerful rendition of Shankar Mahadevan, included a spectacular rhythmic gymnastics show, a demonstration of basketball skills by a few former NBA players, the ancient Kerala martial-art of Kalaripayatu and a bit of music and dancing amidst the rain of confetti.

Not to be missed in the narration however is the assurance of Pawan Munjal of Hero Group, who underscored his social commitment to promoting sports and keeping alive this new tradition in the endeavour to focussing on disciplines other than cricket. He said the feeling that Hero Group was concerned only with cricket was wrong and that the institution was associated with various other disciplines too. He thanked the sports journalists for their role giving in the nominations.

Impeccable were the impresarios, Siddarth Basu and Mandira Bedi, who kept the audience engrossed with the proceedings.

For Sanjay Lal (CEO) and Ms. Shikha Tiku (Vice-President, Operations) of Percept D Mark, the HISA awards, was more a labour of love; an event planned and executed with eclat. Yet, a few irritants like the late start, non-performing air-conditioners at the IG Stadium, lack of attention to national stars other than cricketers, left a bitter taste for quite a handful of champions. Paucity of drinking water on tables, and above all, a poor turn out presumably owing to inadequate publicity, stood out as sore thumbs.

The overall impact, however, cannot be wished away and everyone you spoke to was grateful for being noticed by an institution as Hero Group. There is optimism that things will fall in place as the next edition gets under way.

The following are the award winners:

Sportsman of the Year: Viswanathan Anand (Chess).

Sportswoman of the Year: Anjali Bhagwat (Shooting).

Young Male Achiever: Shiv Kapur (Golf). Young Female Achiever: Koneru Humpy (Chess).

Best Team: Women's Hockey Team (Commonwealth Games gold).

Best Achievers: Athletics: Neelam J. Singh; Badminton: P. Gopi Chand; Chess: Viswanathan Anand; Cricket: Rahul Dravid; Cue Sports: Geet Sethi; Football: Baichung Bhutia; Golf: Jyothi Randhawa; Hockey: Dhanraj Pillay; Kabaddi: B. C. Ramesh; Tennis: Mahesh Bhupathi; Shooting: Anjali Bhagwat; Weightlifting; Kunjarani Devi; Achievement in other sports: Palwinder Singh Cheema; Special Appreciation: Bula Choudhry; Lifetime Achievement: Kapil Dev. - S. Thyagarajan