Welcoming a champ

World carrom champion Ilavazhagi (extreme right) arrives to a warm welcome at the Chennai airport.-K. V. SRINIVASAN World carrom champion Ilavazhagi (extreme right) arrives to a warm welcome at the Chennai airport.

Ilavazhagi is a copybook player. It’s very difficult to spot any weakness in her game.

When I. Ilavazhagi left for the World Carrom Championship in Cannes, France, there was hardly anyone at the airport to see her off. But when she returned home with the women’s trophy, a sizeable crowd, including a few from the media, waited patiently at the Chennai airport to receive the young world champion.

Carrom has failed to gain popularity despite tournaments such as the World Cup, World Championships, SAARC and National Championships being conducted regularly. The Union Sports Ministry is yet to accord carrom the status it has been demanding for a long time. Ilavazhagi’s victory and India’s superb performance at the World Championship — the team won five gold and one silver medal — could possibly help the sport see better times.

A representative of Sri Ramanujar Engineering College, Chennai, was at the airport to receive Ilavazhagi.

She also informed the champion about the job offer the college had made to her. “We are planning to invite Ilavazhagi to our college on March 8 and give her the offer letter,” the college representative said.

Bangaru Babu, the co-founder and former secretary of the International Carrom Federation and now president of the Chennai District Carrom Association, said that Ilavazhagi’s growth was a steady one. “She attended the camp conducted by the Olympic Recreation Club in Chennai from 1997 to 2000 regularly. If you look at her performances, she has been winning one title or the other since 2000. Her record is incomparable,” he said.

Babu said Ilavazhagi is a copybook player and it’s very difficult to spot any weakness in her game.

* * * Rules guru

We know of birds migrating to the warmer climes of India in order to escape the harsh winter in the West. This is the case with some human beings too and Rod Symington (in pic, below) will vouch for it. A resident of Vancouver, Symington was in India recently, though in his capacity as the Senior Referee Assessor of the World Squash Federation for the three-star PSA Championship in Kolkata. The University of Victoria professor enjoyed the balmy Indian weather — “everything’s freezing in my place and that’s hard for me,” he said.

S. PATRONOBISH

Speaking of squash, Symington said, “The sport is going through a change, and this is because of the world body’s decision to introduce a three-referee system.”

Under the old rule, there were heated arguments between the referee and the players, who seemed to doubt every decision. “This was the reason why squash was unable to find a place in the Olympics,” Symington said. Now, with three referees officiating, the players have little to complain. “One of my journalist friends in London Times says squash writing is now getting boring as there are no controversies,” he added jocularly. Having been a world referee — it’s a prestigious position held by only a few officials in the world — Symington is now travelling around the globe, assessing and training young referees. “There is only one international referee from India (Yogendra Singh) and we need to have more from this country, which is now a major name in Asia,” Symington said.

* * * Way to go, sport

It takes an athlete to know what’s best for another athlete. Based on that premise, three talented former sportspersons of Bangalore, S. H. K. Hakimuddin, Nandan Kamath and Joseph Ollapally have decided to put their brilliant academic and professional careers on the back burner and devote time and energy to pick young talent and promote and guide their careers.

Men with a mission... Joseph Ollapally (left), Nandan Kamath (centre) and Hakumuddin.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Hakimuddin, a former National swimming champion who took part in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, is a software professional. Nandan, a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Law graduate, was a former junior cricketer, while Joseph, a Harvard graduate, was an all-round sportsman.

The three came together in 2006 to form Go Sports which, they assert, is aimed at giving sportspersons their rightful place in the society and helping them bridge the gap between their potential and performance.

According to Hakimuddin the decision to start the venture was spontaneous. “The immediate goal is to identify the right talent and work with them all the way, extending all possible support to make them world beaters,” he said.

Go Sports has achieved a great degree of success with its first ward, Virdhawal Khade, who is the country’s fastest swimmer and the only Indian so far to have qualified for the Beijing Olympics.

Go Sports is managing Khade’s career in a professional way. “We work on his schedule and chart out his training programme with his coach Nihar Ameen. We are trying to get him the best possible training abroad. Our effort and presentation helped Khade get a grant of Rs. 45 lakh from the Union Ministry for his Olympics training,” said Nandan.

Impressed with the work, India’s No. 1 badminton player, Anup Sridhar, too has signed up with Go Sports. Two young Karnataka cricketers, Ryan Ninan and K. P. Appanna, are also under Go Sports’ wings.

* * * It was intense

R. RAGU

For Nathuram (in pic, above), 37, hailing from Churu District in Rajasthan, the victory was special despite the fact that he did not clock his best timing. “I am happy with the way I ran. This is my first visit to the city, so I am delighted,” said the Havildar from MRC, Wellington.

The women’s half-marathon brought M. Sudha, a post-graduate student of MOP Vaishnav College, Chennai, good tidings. A medal winner in 10,000m and 5000m in the all-India inter-university meet, Sudha hopes her victory will enable her to get a decent job. The winner of men’s half-marathon, P. Bharathiraja, a student of Cherrans Arts and Science College, Kangaiyam, Erode, said this was one of his best wins.