Judo needs its own Dhoni and Bindra

"So, quantity comes first, only from that will we get quality. This is where we are lacking. Once we reach something like 50,000, there will be tremendous progress." said Mukesh Kumar, the General Secretary of the Judo Union of Asia.

“Winning big medals in Asia is very tough, the day we get medals in Asia, it means that we can get medals in the world meets also." said Mukesh, the president of JFI.   -  Special Arrangements

The Judo Federation of India is keen to work on the gains of Avtar Singh going to the Rio Olympics and is going all out to make the sport’s base in the country bigger. Avtar became the first Indian judoka in 12 years to qualify for the Olympics and now with that barrier crossed, the JFI is keen to produce more such stars.

Japan was the big winner in judo at Rio, taking 12 medals including three gold, and topping the sport’s medal table and the JFI is keen to pick up a lot of lessons from the Japanese model.

“If you look at Japan, which is much smaller than India, the playing population in judo is more than three lakhs. Currently, we have a maximum of 15000 to 20,000 judo players in the country. We want to make this something like 50,000 judokas in the next three to four years,”

Mukesh Kumar, the JFI President who is also the General Secretary of the Judo Union of Asia, told Sportstar on the sidelines of the Asian junior championship here on Sunday.

“So, quantity comes first, only from that will we get quality. This is where we are lacking. Once we reach something like 50,000, there will be tremendous progress.”

To reach that number, the JFI has now reached an understanding with the international federation which will send a delegation of coaches and experts to India in October.

COMMONWEALTH JUDO IN JAIPUR

“It’s more of an educational activity. They will go to places like Delhi, Agra, Haridwar, Dehradun and Jalandhar,” he said. “Next year, I am planning for South. We are also trying to host more major events, we will have the Commonwealth championship in Jaipur in 2018.”

Though it hosted the Asian junior and cadet championships, which ended in Kochi on Sunday, India could win just two bronze medals in the junior championship and a silver and five bronze medals in the cadet event before that.

NOT PERTURBED

But the JFI chief is not perturbed.

“Winning big medals in Asia is very tough, the day we get medals in Asia, it means that we can get medals in the world meets also. Because Asian countries are among the world’s best,” explained Mukesh. “Now, our players are getting bronze, the moment they get bigger medals, we will do very well on the world stage too.”

But he is desperately looking for heroes who could attract youngsters to the sport.

“We don’t have heroes or role models, the sort of stars youngsters can look up to, in our sport. Like Dhoni, in cricket. Around 10 years ago, shooting was virtually nothing. Now, after stars like Abhinav Bindra and Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, interest in shooting has increased immensely.”

NATURALLY GIFTED

But do Indians have the natural qualities to be a champion judoka? “Why not, we have Manipur. Now, Manipur is a hub for women’s judo, I can’t say the same about men where States like Punjab and Haryana dominate.

“The Manipur women have shown that there is potential even if the State is small and the number involved is less. Other States like Haryana and Punjab are also taking big steps forward.” The JFI has also taken steps to adopt and support a few centres of promise.

“We have adopted eight centres, one in Manipur, two in Haryana, two in Punjab, one in Haridwar, one in Anantpur. We are also planning one in Dehradun and looking at Kerala and Chennai with a lot of interest. For example, we offer mats and also support a few players at these centres.”