Sai’s move pays dividend

“It was nice to be part of a team from SAI,which made me what I am today,” says M.S. Poornima, who led SAI to victory at the Shegaon Nationals and was named the best player of the tournament.-Pics: S.K. MOHAN

SAI decides to field own teams at Nationals and reaps a title in Youth volleyball. By P. K. Ajith Kumar.

The surprise result of the National Youth volleyball championship, held at the Maharashtra town of Shegaon recently, was, well, hardly a surprise.

Kerala losing to SAI (Sports Authority of India) in the women’s final might have been shocking under normal circumstances, as it was the reigning champion, had just won the South Zone title and was brimming with talent. Kerala’s defeat, in five sets, wasn’t shocking because its rival team was chosen from among girls training at SAI centres across the country.

At Shegaon, SAI’s men’s team too did well, going all the way to the final, in which it lost to defending champion Uttar Pradesh. And we could see more SAI teams at the National championships. SAI has decided to send its teams to National events in five other sports — football, hockey, basketball, handball and kabaddi.

“The National youth volleyball championship was the first event we sent our own teams to after we took the decision. And we are delighted that both our teams did extremely well,” says Gopal Krishna, director general, SAI.

He adds the decision to field SAI’s teams at National championships was taken because the organisation wanted to assess its trainees at the highest level and to provide more opportunities to more of them.

“Until now, SAI used to supply players to respective State teams. Often, many talented SAI trainees could not make it to those teams and there could also be weak State teams, so our boys and girls didn’t get maximum opportunities to display their abilities,” he elaborates.

The move is welcomed by SAI’s coaches and trainees. “It was nice to be part of a team from SAI, which made me what I am today,” says M.S. Poornima, who led SAI to victory at the Shegaon Nationals and was named the best player of the tournament. She was one of the five girls from the SAI centre at Thalassery (Kerala) that made up the winning team.

Trainees from Thalassery SAI during a training session with coach T. Balachandran.-

C.C. Athira, Akhila M. Benny, Bismin Majeed and Athira Sreedharan were the other Kerala girls. “We had also players from Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Jharkhand,” says Poornima.

Her coach at Thalassery, T. Balachandran, was also the one who trained the SAI team for the Nationals. “It was a proud moment for me when the girls won the title. It meant so much to me; we coaches at SAI hardly get the credit though we produce several quality players. I feel the decision to field SAI teams at National championships is a great one and it will be an incentive for trainees as well as the coaches,” he says.

Not everyone is happy with that decision, though. The Kerala State Volleyball Association secretary Nalakath Basheer says SAI’s move would weaken the State teams. “Kerala’s men’s team suffered at the National youth tourney. I feel SAI should not take away all the top players; the State teams should also be allowed to pick good players from the SAI pool,” he says.

There is also this argument that the SAI teams could be too good for the rest and could kill the competition, though Shegaon has proved otherwise, as one SAI team was stretched to the limit before it triumphed while the other was beaten in the final. It is early days yet, but this latest move from SAI could spice up our National championships further.