Economic Times article on squash
Apr 15, 2007 2 Comments
There is nothing superfluous about this sport. After all swatting a 24grams yellow rubber dot against a wall doesn’t look too arduous. But as the momentum picks up and the ball gets heated it starts cruising like a nuclear pinball. The court then becomes a war zone, where survival asks for superb reflexes, great stamina and a perfect game plan.
Squash is one of those sports, which can be learned only in a minute but it certainly takes a lifetime to master it. Squash is not new to India. The sport got popularised during the Raj era and that’s why today most of the old clubs have a squash court in their long list of sports amenities.
Perhaps this is also one of the reasons, why squash is still considered to be an elite sport. But for now it seems that a young Indians are all set to make their mark on the squash courts. For some its a passport to the foreign shores and the rest for love of the sport. And, with India winning the bronze medal at the recently concluded Asian games, the future of the squash in India certainly looks brighter.
“The prospects have never looked so good ever before,” asserts national coach, Cyrus Poncha. He feels that it’s just a matter of time when one of the players will make it to the top rankings and the sport will get its due credit. “Today, we are at an important juncture. We have the infrastructure and the players.Once, one of these young lads perform and we have a world champion from India, you’ll see squash catching the fancy of many more people,” expresses Poncha. The mood in Squash Rackets Federation of India (SRFI) is upbeat. Recently, government also agreed to upgrade the level of the game in its list, which entitles the federation for availing more grants and facilities.
The academy in Chennai, which opened in the year 2000 already boasts of world-class infrastructure. It has got eight courts, which includes a portable glass court, a gym and a swimming pool. The men’s world championship will also be staged at the academy this year. “Our aim is to popularise the sport and provide the grounds from where we can find and nurture talent. We’ll be soon coming up with similar academies in all the major cities like Kolkata, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chandigarh,” reveals N.Ramachandran, secretary general, SRFI. Ramachandran wants to break the myth that Squash is an elite sport. “Now that we are eligible to send players abroad for training, export sports equipment and hire foreign coaches. I’m sure we will be able to make the sport reach to the masses,” he envisions.
Already SRFI has appointed S. Maniam, who was the head coach of Malaysia for 20 years as the consultant coach. Maniam is also handling the National Junior Development programme, which is designed to promote the game at the grass root level. “My job involves developing a coaching scheme for coaches and to nurture new talent. In the past we held camps at different cities and identified talented players. The aim is to produce national level teams,” says Maniam. Still, Maniam feels that coaches need to take their job more seriously. “We’ve a handful of coaches who work full time. One of the biggest need is to increase that number,” asserts Maniam. He also believes that the difference between Malaysia and India is mainly about the financial assistance. “In Malaysia, I have a target and if I achieve it, I get aid. Here things are a bit different,” he voices.
Though on the surface, it may appear that everything is going well for squash but it isn’t so. There are a lot of differences between the state associations and the national body. Also, in the past some top players decided to move away from SRFI and chart their own path. One of the leading performers, Joshna Chinappa is one of those players who separated from SRFI. In fact, the Mittal Champions Trust (MCT) took aboard Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal last year as talent entries. The trust set up with a corpus of Rs. 40 crore aims to promote sport in India. “We’ve bigger aims for Joshna. We would like her to be in the top-5 in the next two years,” reasons Manisha Malhotra, administrator, MCT. The trust is spending Rs 25 lakh annually on providing her training and other facilities. “It has helped me a lot. Now I don’t have to worry about my trips and I can attend almost all the tournaments,” says Joshna. She believes that there was a lot of politics in SRFI, which sometimes discouraged the players. “I must say that they have done a lot in terms of promoting players but the then there were disadvantages as well,” she reveals. Joshna is hoping to break into top-25 in the coming season.
Another thing that haunts squash promoters is that students participate in the game only to get credits for getting admissions in foreign universities. “In the World Junior Championship in 1998, which was held in United States out of the four players who went for the tournament only one returned. The three of them took admission in the universities there as the institutes have scholarships for squash players,” says Ramachandran. Gaurav Nandrajog, National Runner up Men’s feels that for some it is a logical step. “Unless you are in the top-4, there are not much alternative scopes for making money. They wait for us to become champions and then sponsor us,” he reasons. Also, these players do not get the desired encouragement from their families.
Chitrabala Mohan, mother of Anaka Alamkamony, who is the national Champion under13, feels that the sport is good because it is played indoors. But, there are players who come from a very humble background and want to give their best to the sport. One of those is Ravi Dixit, whose father is a daily labourer. Ravi won the Scottish Junior Open last year and is all set to participate in the German Junior Open. Perhaps, this is why, squash may rebound and gain new heights in India just like that 24 grams yellow rubber dot in the squash court.