The new saviour of sports

NOW, the sports Federations have found a new saviour in Andhra Pradesh.

M. C. RAMAN

NOW, the sports Federations have found a new saviour in Andhra Pradesh. If they want to conduct any major international or national level events they turn to the A.P. Government for help and the Government responds. When most of the States are affected by acute financial crunch and refuse to support the sports officials it is Andhra which is willing to help them whole-heartedly. When the Bengal association, which was to host the National senior basketball championship, backed out at the last moment, the Basketball Federation of India Secretrary, Harish Sharma was desperate. He got in touch with the Andhra Pradesh officials to find out whether the State Government would help in conducting the championship at its newly built indoor stadium at Gachibowli. He got a favourable response and the championship went off well. "They saved me from a serious problem. I am indebted to them. They helped the players with accommodation and food in the village near the stadium. It is because of them I could achieve this," said Sharma. But the Asian Youth (boys) volleyball tournament was an international event, costing the organisers about Rs. 60 to 70 lakhs. When the VFI was bidding for the tournament it had Andhra in mind. In 1997, Kothandramiah conducted the National senior championship at the Rajiv Gandhi Port indoor stadium in Visakhapatnam, a big Port town in the State, in a grand manner. Impressed by his achievement, K. Murugan, Secretary, VFI, got himself posted as the Indian Olympic Association observer at Visakhapatnam during the National Games and did the spade work for the conduct of the Asian Youth championship. He got all the support and facilities and the VFI President, B. Sivanthi Adityan was quite happy that the whole show went off smoothly and he received congratulatory messages from the FIVB office for the excellent job of hosting a major event.

Coach G. E. Sridharan being chaired by his wards. Sridharan became the first Indian coach to win an Asian title. -- Pic. K. R. DEEPAK-

What is the secret behind Andhra's sports promotion? The State Government's initiative to make sports a part of its overall development. Today the Andhra Government is giving a big thrust to tourism development and it is linking most of the events to tourism promotion. The foreign players and officials were quite impressed when they were taken to Kailasagiri, a tourist spot on a hill. More than this it is the Andhra Government's wise decision in setting aside one or two per cent of its revenue collection for sports promotion. This has helped it get big reserve funds that were utilised to make the National Games a big show with excellent playing facilities. Perhaps the best in the country. The Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh (SAAP) took austerity measures during the National Games at Visakhapatnam and saved some money. It is from that the SAAP had offered about Rs. 30 lakhs for the conduct of the Asian Youth championship. The other States should follow AP. If that happens Indian sport will be right on top in Asia.

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Japan's withdrawal came as a big surprise for the VFI and the organisers. Being a frontline country in the sport, its last-minute intimation annoyed them. It was a case of ditching and the VFI promptly intimated Japan's pull out to the AVC. Such last-minute withdrawals draw huge fines as per the FIVB rules now. Japan was slapped with a 10,000 dollar fine. But Japan did not bother and stuck to its guns, saying that it was worried about the security of its players because of its support to Americans in the Iraqi invasion. The reason looked flimsy because the Australian team landed promptly. Was it the fear of SARS ? In any case Japan would have spent more than half that amount to take part here. So the additional burden of fine was nominal. What is needed is more stringent punishment. Like debarring the Nation for a minimum of two Asian tournaments.

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Cricket is not the only sport to draw crowd. Visakhapatnam has shown that even international volleyball matches can draw huge crowds. Almost everyday late in the evening there were about six to seven thousand people to cheer, particularly the Indian team. So the organisers rescheduled the Indian matches as the last item of the day. There were Indian flags all over the stadium where over 7000 spectators erupted for every point that India scored against the defending champion Iran, which became nervous and lapsed into errors in the final. The pressure was too much.

Kamaraj, who received the Best Setter Award. -- Pic. K. R. DEEPAK-

G. E. Sridharan has done it. No other Indian coach has the honour of winning an Asian title. Not even Shyam Sundar Rao who did a fantastic job with the 1994 Indian junior team that qualified for the World championship in 1995 in Malaysia, beating China twice — first in the Asian championship and again in the Asian qualifier, which India won. But Korea thwarted us for the no.1 position in the Asian junior championship. When G. E. Sridharan, who had played in more than 200 international matches and was in the Italian league as a pro along with the legendary Jimmy George, was entrusted with the Indian junior team in the 90s it could finish only fourth, being so unlucky each time in some form or other. So some people in the VFI branded him unlucky and he had a tough time for about four years. He took this job as a big challenge and despite not so elaborate preparation like participation in international competitions he was confident of achieving his goal. Unlike Shyam Sundar Rao, who is a more positive type, prompting his team to charge and win, Sridharan was considered a `safe player'. But this time he followed Shyam and told his team to charge in the final phase as the team had nothing to lose. It worked and India won in style. Overwhelmed by the triumph he said after the final: "It is an achievement of my life. I feel so happy about the team's success." — It finished seventh in the 2001 Youth championship in Iran. In the first two editions India did not take part.

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DPR Kroea's coach So Kwang Gon, an old man, caused a lot of problems for the referees. In the semi-final against India he made a big fuss about a touch out decision that went in favour of India. Before the commencement of the third set he moved into the court and made some gestures towards the main referee James Lester of Australia, who showed him the yellow card. That gave one point to India, which started the third set with one point advantage. When the Control Committee saw Doordarshan's clippings of the incident it was convinced that it was a touch out. Again the next day against China, Gon kept on disputing. Referee Benny of India showed him the red card and he was forced to sit out for the third set which the Koreans won to finish off China in straight sets. He was the only coach to get the cards.

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For Kamaraj, India's No. 1 setter from Tamil Nadu, it was a great day when he received the Best Setter award, sidelining Iran's setter Behza, more experienced and able. The irony was that Kamaraj could not land a job in Tamil Nadu as his name was kept in the waiting list of the Railways. In the meantime, the ONGC saw talent in him and appointed him immediately. Within months of joining ONGC, Kamaraj steered Uttaranchal to its first National senior men's title in Chauthala in 2002. That was how he came into focus. Now he is in demand.

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The following received the awards: Most Valuable Player and Best Blocker : Sanjay Kumar (India), Best Setter : Kamaraj (India), Best Scorer: Md. Soleymani (Iran), Best Attacker : Pak Young Nam (DPR Korea), Best Dig: Md. Zadeh (Iran), Best Server : Sadeghyani (Iran) , Best Receiver: Srikanth (India); As Australia did not qualify for the first four positions, Christensen Zane, who topped the list of Individual skills like attack, serve and dig, was given a special prize.