Offering a helping hand

M. C. RAMAN

NORMALLY, the major National-level events like National championships, Federation Cup, Department Nationals and Inter-Zone events are allotted to State assocations by the respective Federations and the State bodies, in turn, permit the district associations to host them. But the Basketball Federation of India, which is very active now under the supervision of new office-bearers, is facing a different problem. The BFI Secretary, Harish Sharma, wants to revive all the National-level tournaments and is willing to help even financially the State associations to host them. For instance he is ready to help State associations who want to conduct the junior events by getting the Government grant in advance. Unfortunately, the response from the State bodies is lukewarm. As a result the BFI directly hosted the National senior championship at Hyderabad in January. Of course, the Andhra association officials also helped the BFI. And now the Federation Cup was organised by the BFI directly at Vashi (Navi Mumbai).

Sunil Kumar Panda of Tata Steel, playing at the age of 57, was the star attraction of the tournament . — Pic. VINO JOHN-

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The man in charge of the 20th Federation Cup at Vashi was the BFI Associate Secretary, M. Venkatesh. The BFI is keen on bringing in more and more enterprising youngsters into the administration. It was quite impressed by the way Venkatesh conducted the National junior championship at Vashi and hosted a coaching camp successfully. At a short notice Venkatesh, managed to complete the Cup successfully. The BFI Secretary Harish Sharma was quite happy with the way the event was conducted. He needs more Venkateshes to make the BFI a more active Federation in the country. Then only he can conduct the now defunct Inter-Zone and Pre-Asian tournaments.

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It is not easy to get sponsors for games like basketball and volleyball. Though they draw more crowd the companies are in no mood to exploit the games' popularity. The Maharashtra association tried to organise the National senior basketball championship at Mumbai, but postponed the event twice before giving up completely. However, Venkatesh managed to rope in Reliance, which gave a moderate financial support. He managed to raise funds to the tune of Rs.10 lakhs.

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For the Cup organiser, Venkatesh, the Fr. Agnel Technical Education complex at Vashi, where there are two cement basketball courts with floodlights, has come as a boon. The Institute Principal and the owners show keen interest in games and they want their complex to be developed into a good sports centre. What is lacking is a roof and wooden flooring. They are trying to get them. If it becomes an indoor court it will be a major centre for top basketball events. Not only students even the parents come in good numbers to watch the matches. This is a healthy trend.

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The demise of former BFI President Vaikuntam, a father figure for three decades, a week before the Federation Cup brought to an end a great chapter in Indian basketball. The 20th Federation Cup was dedicated to him. A bachelor he devoted his entire life to basketball promotion throughout the country. A soft-spoken person he had the ability to bring in enterprising people into the BFI administration. During his days, Matunga in Mumbai and Indian Gymkhana used to be the nerve-centre of the game and the Ramu memorial was a major event in the country. Maharashtra used to field strong women teams. What a fall for the place.

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During the Cup the people's focus was on IOB and the players like Robinson, an Asian Allstar player, Shabeer Ahmed, Sridhar and Gopinath. The team was a big hit with the local crowd which chanted "Robinson, Robinson," particularly during the final. But the rumour that was going around was that Robinson, Shabeer, Sridhar and Gopinath would move to Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, Dehradun, which is making lucrative offers to these players. Robinson, in particular, is to be offered twice the salary he is already getting in IOB, plus all the perks and facilities that cricketer Md. Kaif gets now. Who would reject it? But there is a catch. It is on contract basis for a period. So the top BFI officials are advising Robinson not to take a hasty decision because it does not want any dip in his performance. With IOB and Tamil Nadu he will be good enough to play for the country in the Asian championship for another seven or eight years.

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Who is worried about Robinson's departure ? Obviously, the Tamil Nadu Basketball Association. The tall point guard is a price catch for the State. With Shabeer he has formed a formidable defence system that has helped Tamil Nadu win the National senior championship for four years in a row. However, the TNBA cannot stop the exodus. The only option is to go for more Robinsons in the State. Said Selvaraj, the TNBA Secretary, who was at Vashi, "Let them go if they want because they get good offer. It is not fair to stop them. But we are preparing the next batch and they are ready. We have to expose them to more tough competitions." What is really worrying the TNBA is the shrinking job market for basketball players. Not long ago, IOB, Indian Bank, the Cup winner twice, State Bank and Southern Railway used to fight for the titles in State tournaments. Now IOB is the only strong side in the city. Indian Bank and State Bank are lying low. Even Southern Railway is not recruiting new players. ICF is a fairly decent side now.

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Like some bank teams in Chennai, Tata Steel, Jamshedpur, has fallen on bad days. Once TISCO and Bihar dominated Indian basketball. Seven footer Sunil Kumar Panda was the star attraction. But TISCO has also lost its glory. It is taking promising youngsters on contract, but there are no jobs for them like before. Before the 20th Federation Cup, four of Tata Steel's main players joined ONGC. Still Tata Steel surprised ONGC in a group match at Vashi. At 57 Panda was only a passenger on the court. But what made him to visit Vashi after a long gap. It was to meet his old friends and mingle with the basketball fraternity. He played with his old vests and shorts that had different colours. But the crowd enjoyed Panda's one hand basketing.

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The BFI Secretary Harish Sharma is a worried man. The officiating standard at the Cup was pretty bad. Even the men's final had its quota of controversies. Now the BFI has to start from scratch to get a new set of competent referees and officials. " I have made open financial offers to people who want to come and attend the clinics and improve their knowledge of the game. Unfortunately, the response from the referees is very bad," said Sharma.

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Delhi, the National women champion, put up a pathetic performance. It is a MTNL team from the capital with maximum number of internationals. But the squad lost to Chhattisgarh in the group and was knocked out in the semi-finals. People started asking how this team won the National title, beating Railways. It could not beat even Western Railway, the Inter-Railway champion, at Vashi. Delhi must have realised how difficult it is to sustain the performance at higher level.

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Vijaya Bank's coach Dilip, a former international, objected in the teams' meeting about using `Nivia' indoor ball. He said he was not informed about the ball change and wondered if that ball was available in Bangalore. But the players agreed that it was a wrong choice for outdoor conditions. Sharma, however, pointed out that the States were informed in advance. The problem in our country is that the State associations just do not bother to inform the clubs and this happens in every Federation like a curse. Such indifferent people are running the State associations.

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It was a bad campaign for Kerala and its cup of woes overflowed. On an average the State loses five to 10 players to Railways each year. So it is not able to maintain its high standard. Said Bevin Chacko, the Kerala coach : "Look at the Western Railway and Andhra teams. Most of them are Kerala players. We don't mind their leaving the state for jobs. But we are not able to maintain the standard." Andhra fielded South Central Railway players. Incidentally, the Kerala team changed its name to Kerala Electricity Board midway through the competition. Once FACT used to be the Kerala squad. But it has stopped recruitment and it is now KSEB's turn.

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The organisation of the Federation Cup is quite expensive, according to the TNBA Secretary, Selvaraj. For the senior National championships, the players, officials and referees are expected to be there as it is a major event. But for the Cup competition,the organisers are inviting teams and officials. So they have to pay for their expenses. The eight top men's and women's teams that play are entitled to their bata and other facilities.