‘We need more international exposure’

Tom Joseph feels there is not much support for volleyball in India.-R.V. MOORTHY

Tom Joseph, one of the tallest stars in Indian volleyball, spoke about his long association with the sport and the overall standard in the country. Y.B. Sarangi listens in.

For Tom Joseph — the affable, soft-spoken and down-to-earth spiker — volleyball is an inseparable part of his life. Tom, one of the tallest stars in Indian volleyball, was in the news last year for missing out on the Arjuna Award. He was disheartened, but not demoralised. After all, he always played the sport for the love of it.

Even as he obliged the numerous fans, who lined up with requests for photographs and autographs, at the National volleyball championship in the Teerthanker Mahaveer University in Moradabad, Tom, 34, spoke to Sportstar about his long association with the sport and the overall standard of Indian volleyball.

Question: The sport is not getting much publicity. What is the reason?

Answer: There is not much support for the sport. There is support and publicity for a sport like cricket, but these things are missing in volleyball.

Is the lack of noticeable performances a reason?

The standard of the Indian team is good. But we do not have enough international experience. That is why we are losing to top teams. Last year, India played against Cuba in the Olympic qualifier in Germany. After losing the first set 12-25, we got some grip over the game and gave a tough fight before going down 22-25, 20-25 in the next two. If we get some international experience, then we will definitely perform better.

Volleyball is popular only in some parts of the country. How can it be popularised all over India?

We need to revive the Indian Volleyball League (IVL). It was discontinued within a few years after it was started. If it is revived, it can become as successful as the Indian Badminton League (IBL). The Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) looks keen. Since volleyball is a power game, the IVL can popularise the sport and benefit the players. Even today, a local volleyball tournament in Kerala attracts around 10,000-15,000 spectators. Here, too, a good number of people are coming to watch the sport. Media coverage is also needed to make volleyball popular.

What is your opinion about the up and coming talents in volleyball?

Tom Joseph (left) and his Kerala teammates in action against Haryana in the National Volleyball Championship.-R.V. MOORTHY

Nowadays, not many are taking up volleyball. Earlier, a lot of youngsters from Kerala used to show interest in volleyball but now the younger lot is moving towards cricket and football. Other States too are not producing many volleyball players. Money is also an issue. We get Rs. 200-300 per day for playing the Nationals and this is nothing. I took part in professional volleyball twice in the Gulf. But I left because of my commitments with the Indian team.

How do you keep yourself fit after playing for so many years?

I have played in more than 15 National championships. I have never missed one. There are several tournaments in Kerala. For example, from January to June, we have so many events to play in. There is a two-month break before we start again. We keep practising and stay fit.

You missed out on the Arjuna Award and it became a big controversy. You must have felt very bad.

It hurts. I represented the country for 12 years. I participated in two Asian Games and both times we came fourth. With a little more exposure, we could have won a medal. I have three gold medals in the South Asian Games, but these are not considered good enough achievements for the Arjuna Award. So what do I do?

How do you keep yourself motivated?

I do not think much about it, because I cannot do anything. I am playing volleyball because I love the sport. I have got several awards in Kerala, from all the 14 districts in the State.