Volleyball shows the way

FOR a sport that had seen the glitter of a silver medal in the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games and then a b

FOR a sport that had seen the glitter of a silver medal in the 1962 Jakarta Asian Games and then a bronze in Seoul in 1986, but suffered the indignity of being shunted out of the Government's priority list, volleyball has indeed come a long way. The recent string of successes proclaims what scientific training, modern thinking, professional management and single-minded pursuit of excellence can do to a sport. These victories did not come overnight but only after an extended period of turmoil and restructuring after the Seoul Games bronze.

Indeed, the year 2003 has been by far the best for India, what with the youth team coming into focus in Visakhapatnam, winning the Asian championship and thereafter getting past a host of top teams to finish second best to only Brazil in the World championship in Thailand.

The junior squad won the silver medal in the Asian championship in Tehran and then the seniors under a Bulgarian coach, Hristo Iliev, made a sensational start in the Asian Championship in Tianjin (China) beating defending champion South Korea. It is a different matter that Korea went on to win the title and India finished fifth overall. Still, it is good enough for a possible berth in the Athens Olympics qualifier. These are unprecedented landmarks for the sport in the country. What needs to be underscored is that the fruits of hard labour are being enjoyed in all categories of the sport — juniors, youth and seniors. In a way, volleyball has become an example for all other mass-based sport in the country. It has shown what a disciplined approach can achieve.

A sport that requires little investment in terms of infrastructural facility and even in terms of kit, volleyball needs only proper nurturing of talent and the right men to spot them in the first place. Fortunately for Indian volleyball there have been quite a few stalwarts who have decided to repay something to the game that had made them. People like G. E. Sreedharan, Shyamsundar Rao and Ramana Rao, to name a few, have been outstanding as players and in their new innings have been unsparing in their efforts to bolster the sport, thanks to an administration which recognises the values of past players and their efficiency. No less too are the inputs of Messrs. Sivanthi Adityan and K. Murugan, President and Secretary respectively, of the Volleyball Federation of India. Both have been open to suggestions and taken decisions that had only one goal: to make India a world power. Small wonder the Government has backed the sport to the hilt, for the results are there to prove.

It is with a sense of contentment then that Murugan speaks of India being a force in Asia. A sport that had the services of such legendary figures as the mercurial Jimmy George, `Ballu' Balwant Singh, and in more recent times Joby Joseph and Ravikanth Reddy, Indian volleyball has acquired a stature all its own. Now, the latest successes put India right on the path to its ultimate goal, a high spot in the world ratings. This is not easy. But the commitment shown thus far, the readiness for modern scientific training and the willingness to expose the young players to some of the best opposition, makes one believe that India is on the right track. What merits mention is VFI's hosting of international events on a regular basis as also the launch of the National League. These have gone a long way in meeting the high demands of honing skills.

For the development of any sport an uninterrupted supply of top quality talent is essential. The graduation from one category to the next in mass-based sport has often not been smooth as the experience of football shows. This is where the VFI has been careful. While laying stress on excellence it has not lost sight of the development at the grassroots level — the college and school competitions. Spotting talent early and shaping it have ensured that volleyball is never short of talent that could deliver the goods.

At the Thailand competition for instance, Kamaraj turned a hero when he was adjudged the best setter of the championship. As they say it is the deeds of stalwarts of one era that inspire the next and in volleyball it is doubtful if anybody would have removed the self-doubts in aspiring players more than the classy Jimmy George.

The gradual rise to order and strength from the haphazardness of a decade ago coupled with the inspiring performances in recent times make it tempting to hope for a landmark performance in the Qatar Asian Games in 2006. This is not beyond Indian volleyballers considering that they have advanced from mere winning to making a mark at the international level.

How many sports federations in India can lay claim to such a level of consistent performance and raise expectations of brighter days ahead? But if there is one thing that volleyball's progress conveys it is that there is no place for outdated means and modes anymore. Give merit its due, associate with the best minds in the business and above all have faith in the belief that `we can do it'. Volleyball has shown the way.