‘The sport will take off if we put things in place’

Brig. S. Rajaram (left) in an Enterprise at the Upper Lake, Bhopal.-Brig. S. Rajaram (left) in an Enterprise at the Upper Lake, Bhopal.

“Timely and organised financial support for participation abroad will give the right international exposure to our sailors who have been selected to represent India,” says Brigadier Srinivasan Rajaram, Vice-President (Technical) of the Laser Class Association of India, in this interview with A. Joseph Antony.

Brigadier Srinivasan Rajaram is the Vice-President (Technical) of the Laser Class Association of India (LCAI). A committed and accomplished sailor, he recently organized the National Sailing Championships at Hussain Sagar, Hyderabad.

The winner of the first ever Laser Nationals held at Hyderabad in 1986 and also the National Inland Enterprise Championship at the National Defence Academy (NDA) in the same year, he was part of ‘Team India’ twice at the Enterprise World Championships in 1992 and 1997. He was also awarded the prestigious NDA ‘Blue’ in sailing as early as 1979.

Also passionate about adventure sailing in the high seas, having been the Army member of the Inter-Services Sailing Expedition ‘Samudra – 3’ on a 43-foot vessel from Kochi to the Persian Gulf and back in 1992, he spoke to Sportstar shortly after the Hyderabad Sailing Week concluded. Excerpts:

Question: Tell us something about this Olympic sport that is hugely popular the world over but not so in India.

Answer: A sailor requires tremendous physical, mental and technical orientation to steer his or her boat fast in a formatted direction over a prescribed course, duly factoring the wind’s speed, direction, the waves and the tide, especially at sea. During a race, he has to also continuously assess the relative positioning of all his fellow sailors so as to manoeuvre his boat to the most advantageous point in each leg. To keep the boat upright against tremendous pressure exerted by the wind on his sail, he or she has to hike (hang) outside the boat with his legs in a toe-strap secured to the boat, or use a harness and trapeze arrangement for the same.

What draws youngsters to this sport?

Firstly it’s an exciting, thrilling and adventurous sport that truly tests both men and women. Secondly it’s a great feeling to captain and race a boat all by yourself, or as part of a crew, whether in a lake, or more often, the open sea. It also makes one acutely aware of one’s environment, the need to conserve and protect it, since you establish a real ‘connect’ with nature through this entirely eco-friendly sport.

What is special about the ‘Laser Class’?

The ‘Laser’ is an Olympic class boat sailed by both men (standard rig – larger sails) and women (radial rig – smaller sails). It’s amongst the most popular and fastest growing fleets in the world due to several reasons viz., it’s a single design class, meaning all sailors get to sail the same quality of boat thus testing only his or her ability and skills on the water.

It’s also relatively economical to own, for it’s cheaper than most other sail boats and easily transportable. With one boat, a family can enjoy it by using different rigs for juniors (4.7 rig), ladies and lighter weight sailors (radial rig) and for men (standard rig). Thus a child can start his or her sailing in the 4.7 Laser and dream of standing on the Olympic podium!

What are LCAI’s steps to popularise this sport?

In developed countries sailing is both very competitive and popular as also a great week-end hobby with everyone aspiring to tow his boat behind his car. In India we’ll need more time to reach this stage of prosperity. Today, there are several sailing clubs and centres that include Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai, Vishakapatnam, Bhopal, Kochi, Goa, Ezhimala (Kerala), Port Blair etc.

We ensure this sport is accessible to as many sportspersons as possible in co-ordination with and the support of the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh (SAAP). We recently held a coaching camp for school children in Hussain Sagar, where over 140 boys and girls were trained. We dream of the day when all schools will encourage sailing as a great sport for a child’s all-round development.

Has sailing taken off in India as it should have?

It could have reached greater heights and got us an Olympic medal by now; however, the sport will take off if we put things in place. Some of these could be: broad basing sailing with government backing as is being done by SAAP and creating facilities similar to the National Sailing School, Bhopal — a residential school for aspirants of Madhya Pradesh.

The Sea Cadet Corps model at Mumbai has also produced many international sailors and is worthy of replication at many more locations in India. The Army Yachting Node (AYN) gives institutional support to Army sailors and gives focused and specialised coaching. The Indian Navy also has similar facilities to encourage this sport.

The EME Sailing Association, an affiliate of the Military College of Electronics and Mechanical Engineering (MCEME) at Secunderabad, introduced single-hander sailing way back in the 1970s and gave institutional support in its formative years and thereafter. Our own champion and Arjuna Awardee Rajesh Choudhary of the Corps of EME, (Flying Sikh Milkha Singh is also from the same source!) began sailing in Hyderabad and has won several international medals.

What crucial support is needed to take this sport to the next level?

The sailing community in India — especially the Laser sailors — longs for support to buy subsidised Laser boats under the Government of India’s 75:25 scheme. The Laser 4.7 is an ideal junior category for patronage under this scheme, as a young/junior sportsperson can start with this rig and graduate to the Standard or Radial, when aiming for the Asian Games and Olympics.

Timely and organized financial support for participation abroad will give the right international exposure to our sailors who have been selected to represent India in the Asian Championships, Asian Games, World Championships and Olympics. In Europe and U.S., sponsorship from big companies like SAP, Omega watches etc., boosts the sport immensely. In India, corporate awareness is currently on the rise for its Olympic and human resource potential.

What kind of coaching will get India the Asian Games or Olympic medals?

We need to look holistically at this important issue, not only at coaching. Great sportspersons can only be found from a large base of young players. After such talents are identified, they need world class coaching coupled with adequate international sailing exposure as part of a scientific programme for build-up to the Asian Games and then the Olympics. A professional approach is the only way forward with due support and backing from all quarters. We see this approach and model working in great sporting nations that win a huge tally of medals.

What advice would you give sailors ambitious for international achievement?

There are no short cuts to dedication, hard work or an intelligent and passionate approach to learning sailing in all its glorious dimensions. The use of technology for coaching and scientific physical fitness programmes designed especially for sailing of a particular class like the ‘Laser’ is crucial. The killer instinct and winning spirit are equally important. A specialized approach and training in these aspects of sports psychology are equally important.

What were the highlights of the recently concluded Laser Nationals?

A total of 122 sailors in various categories took part including boys and girls of all ages indicating the sport’s huge popularity and efficient conduct by the hosts — EME Sailing Association. The top sailors were very good and can reach greater heights and earn glory for India. The winds were excellent and really tested the sailors’ skills and endurance. Overall it was a huge success for the sport.