No better time than now to pursue volleyball, says former India captain Abhijit Bhattacharya

Former India volleyball captain Abhijit Bhattacharya talks about his introduction to the sport, growth of volleyball over the years, Prime Volleyball League and more.

Published : Feb 12, 2023 10:48 IST

Abhijit with Sunny Joseph, the head coach of Mumbai Meteors (2nd picture) (PVL)
Abhijit with Sunny Joseph, the head coach of Mumbai Meteors (2nd picture) (PVL) | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Abhijit with Sunny Joseph, the head coach of Mumbai Meteors (2nd picture) (PVL) | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Abhijit Bhattacharya is the only volleyball player from Assam who has made it big in the Indian team. The former captain of the Indian team helped India win eight international medals which includes five gold.  

After representing India for over a decade, Abhijit decided to do something meaningful to give back to the sport, especially in his home state. He founded the Assam Volleyball Mission 100, which looks to provide equipment and facilities to children and youth who want to pursue volleyball in the State. 

In 2020, Abhijit started the Brahmaputra Volleyball League, an initiative to nurture grassroots volleyball talent in Assam. Much has changed over the three seasons since. The league currently has 393 teams and more than 4200 children within its fold.  

Abhijit was named the team mentor for the Kolkata Thunderbolts in the inaugural edition of the Prime Volleyball League in 2022. This season, he is with debutant side Mumbai Meteors as general manager. 

In this interview with  Sportstar, the former India volleyball player talks about his entry into the sport, the growth of volleyball over the years, his introduction to Prime Volleyball League, and more. 

Q. With not many volleyball players from Northeast India, how did you take a liking to volleyball? 

A. Dr. Dibyajyoti Bhagawati, a volleyball coach, who was extremely passionate about the sport, had asked the government to post him in a place where he could find one player from the Northeast who would go on to represent the Indian team. I am the product of his dream. As a science graduate, he studied the scientific parameters required for a volleyball player and used to subscribe to sports magazines in China and USSR in the late 1980s. When he was posted to Tezpur in Assam, he scouted volleyball players and wanted someone tall. He went to every shoe store in Tezpur and asked the owner if anyone wore shoe size 10, under the impression that person would be tall. He finally found one person, my father. He inspired and motivated me to take up volleyball. Since no one from the Northeast had represented India till then, it was a big challenge. He made sure all the team members come together so that at least one member plays for India. This remains in the back of my mind, which is why I decided to give back (Brahmaputra Volleyball League) to the kids back home (Assam)and my coach. 

Q. How were you introduced to the Prime Volleyball League?  

A. While I was in the Brahmaputra Volleyball league, I met Joy Bhattacharjya during the Pro Volleyball League auctions and the finals in Chennai. Joy knew I was conducting BVL, and he adopted one of the teams (Bapuji VCC). Later, when Kolkata Thunderbolts joined the Prime Volleyball League last year, they were looking for someone who could help to form a team. Joy probably recommended my name to them. That’s how I was introduced to PVL. 

Q. With you as the team mentor, Kolkata Thunderbolts won the Prime Volleyball League last year; how was your experience working with them? 

A. My initial role was to identify the coach and prepare before the auction- the plan moving forward, the team structure and the players needed for the team. We built the team right from scratch. I thought Sunny Joseph, former India coach, would be the right person as the head coach, so I invited him on board. Since it was a newly formed team, they (owners) were new to the sport and understanding the dynamics of volleyball. I wanted to form a team, where the players should be comfortable playing together. My role was to handle the communication between the franchise owners, league, players, and coaches and bring them together. It was a new learning experience for me. 

Abhijit with the winners trophy after Kolkata Thunderbolts won the inaugural edition of the Prime Volleyball League.
Abhijit with the winners trophy after Kolkata Thunderbolts won the inaugural edition of the Prime Volleyball League. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Abhijit with the winners trophy after Kolkata Thunderbolts won the inaugural edition of the Prime Volleyball League. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Q. How different is your role as the general manager of the newly formed Mumbai Meteors team from when you were in Kolkata? 

A. The roles are more or less the same as Mumbai is a new team. The responsibility of forming the entire team from the beginning is the same. Now probably, I have a much larger role to play because I take part in the decision-making process at the owner’s level by coordinating with the league and the players. The responsibility is more than what I had earlier with the Kolkata team. The team owners (Sameer and Rahul) left everything to me, it was much easier for me to make decisions. My previous experience helped me in forming this team easily. 

Q. Is there any specific reason for choosing Mumbai Meteors? 

A. No, I was looking to help a new team since Kolkata was formed already. I did not have much of a role to play as the owners (Kolkata) knew about volleyball and how to go about the league. Initially, it was to help them to understand the game and help in team formation, and now, my role in Kolkata would be very limited. Since Mumbai is a new team and I had this experience of forming a team, I found this to be quite interesting. So, I joined them. 

Q. During the auctions, were you able to get the players you wanted, or was it clashing with the targeted budget? 

A. We were fortunate that we identified the players beforehand and went with our plan. The presence of Sameer at the auction table was a huge advantage because he is a mathematics guy, and made calculations on the spot, which helped us bid for certain players and go for a certain amount. Except for one or two, the rest of the players were what we were looking for.  

Q. Any Mumbai Meteors player who has caught your eye? 

A. Yes, all. We are lucky to have found two very good foreign players, Brandon Greenway from the USA, and Cuba’s Hiroshi Centelles. Our captain Kartik is always the kind of leader we wanted. There is Shamim, who is doing exceptionally well. Amit Golia is there, then Hardeep, they are two counterattackers doing very well, and Abdul Rahim, the universal attacker is also doing very well. The team will do wonders in the league. 

Q. Who are you most excited to face in PVL 2? 

A. All the teams are equally good. We have been seeing the quality of foreign players, it’s better than last time, and the matches will be more competitive this season. One match, which would be very exciting for all of us would be the Kolkata-Mumbai match. We are looking forward to qualifying for the semifinal first then, and we will wait for the finals. 

Q. Has volleyball evolved from the time you started playing to date? If so, how? 

A. The standards of Indian volleyball players are at par with any world-class athlete. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, when I used to play, we were ranked in between 24th and 26th place in the world. Then, we used to beat teams like Iran and Korea. In the FIVB Volleyball Boys’ U19 World Championship, India won the silver medal. Post that, Iran and other teams have raised their level and improved their rankings. I feel Indians have the potential too, but only with proper and systematic planning can we reach the Olympics or even World Championships. If that’s achieved, I’m 100 percent sure that India will be a medal prospect. With such abundant talent in the country, the players can be compared to the best in the world. The only issue is that they do not have the system, or proper plan in place, do not get matches to play and lack exposure. 

Q. Any message to the youngsters who want to take up volleyball as a career option? 

A. If anyone loves volleyball and is passionate about the sport, I think this is the right time to pursue the game. We have a professional league in place doing exceptionally well with Volleyball World partnering with us, they will be watching the play and the environment. In the last couple of years, the volleyball scenario was not very optimistic, but now with PVL, the franchises are looking to build a team and bring new players from their state and other states. This is the right time for them to pursue this sport with new technology, space, and science. The franchises are picking up and hiring the best coaches, implementing science and technology, and in the coming years, the players will be becoming household names. 

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