IN SPORTS, APART FROM CRICKET, THE ADMINISTRATORS LOOK LEAST CONCERNED
Sports, other than cricket, tennis, badminton and those which were able to bring Olympic triumphs home, are like aliens to India. So is the pathetic approach of authorities governing these sports. The story of netball is a perfect case in this regard that how its players are living the life of unsung heroes despite bringing laurels to India at major sporting events. Ramesh Kumar Raja had a wide-ranging conversation with Prachi Tehlan, one of the most talented players on the court who gave a new dimension to the Indian netball under her captaincy. Like many of her contemporaries, Prachi was forced to take a sabbatical as there were neither job opportunities nor good facilities to practice. She recently wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his attention over the sorry state of fringe sports in India, but unfortunately there is no response from the other side till date. Edited excerpts:
Tell us about your sporting journey from basketball to net ball. And of course, about your captaincy that brought laurels to the country in net ball?
I started playing basketball in class 7th in 2001. I played my first nationals representing Delhi in 2002 when I got an offer to join Montfort as it had a better basketball team and an experienced coach. The journey never stopped after that and I represented Delhi in all the age categories and continued to play it till college where I got an opportunity to play Netball for the first time ever during inter college tournament because of my height. The selection committee got highly impressed with my shooting skills and selected me to be a part of the first national camp that was to be held in Gandhinagar in February 2008, Gujarat in preparation for CWG 2010.
It was a tough decision to make as my first year exams were very close and I had to take a call to join the camp of entirely new sport for me. But I took the decision and with my family’s support I worked hard and very hard to learn the game and eventually played all the major national and international netball championships from 2008- 2011.
I was given the opportunity to lead my team in 2010 during the 7th Youth Asian Championship held in Delhi. It indeed wasn’t easy to prove myself from the squad of 70 girls who started the camp and eventually being in the top 12 to represent my country at that platform, in top 7 to start the play for my team and being the youngest captain consecutively for two years in all the major championships India participated. Adding to the silver medal which India won under my captaincy during South Asian Beach Games help in Sri Lanka in 2011.
What is the difference between Basketball and Netball?
People in India generally confuse all the ball games. For most, Basketball, Handball, Throwball and Netball are the same.
There is a huge difference in both the games. To share a few major ones- Baketball court has board behind the ring and netball doesn’t. In basketball, five players can play from one team at a time, in netball there are seven on the ground. In basketball, every player can shoot and dribble the ball. In netball, a player can’t dribble the ball, only two players can shoot and one can’t keep the possession of the ball for more than three seconds. Basketball court is divided into two halves whereas the netball court is divided into three halves.
Other than these, the rules, regulations, game duration and sports attire are entirely different in these sports.
Share with us your achievements that make the country proud.
My every drop of sweat on the playing ground for 11 years was in the zeal to play for my country and breaking the previous performance records.
Some of the achievements are winning its first silver medal in 2011 under my captaincy. Winning the Indo-Singapore series, rolling up the international rank in Asia from 9th to 7th in senior category and from 7th to 4th in youth category are some other achievements that my team had under my captaincy.
How did you land a corporate job and not the government one? What are the other women of your team doing?
Unfortunate but true. Before the big games in 2010, we were promised government jobs and scholarships. As the time passed, politicians got changed and eventually the government with no focus on the careers of the players and the future of the game in the country. Experiencing this reality, I had to complete my education in management and look for a corporate job taking a retirement from the sport. There was nothing more I could have done for my country and I could see a bleak future for myself in terms of growing as a professional Netball player to earn my living.
Some of the women from my team are placed as physical education teachers, many got married and have kids and some got the support from their state governments to find a suitable job for themselves considering their education. I am ambitious, well spoken, confident and hardworking with strong educational background. My aspirations in life doesn’t allow me to take up a job which doesn’t satisfy and do justice with my qualifications.
Why are these sports still lying in neglect in India despite brilliant performance internationally?
People running the federations are the sole reason. Conflicts between the federation members are spoiling the career and golden years of sports persons. The authorities should understand the needs and desires of a player who is playing on the ground all out of his passion. I am happy to see sports like badminton, kabaddi, football and hockey coming up with their leagues and celebrities getting involved to promote them. I hope these leagues affect the actual system of federations through which a player actually qualifies to represent the country at an international platform.
What drawbacks have you noticed in the operation and administration of these two sports?
Lack of flow of funds to these games on operational level to provide all basic necessities a player should be getting is a major factor. Also, the people running these federations do not understand a player’s need and do something for them.
What compelled you to write a letter to the Prime Minister recently? Did you receive any feedback from the other end?
Just as millions of Indians I was also hoping for betterment and was looking forward to PM Narendra Modi’s delivery on that hope with changed government. I was sitting with my friends and discussing about the issues we faced during our sports life and if at all there is somebody to listen to it and bring up a productive change. I started to pen down the difficult times faced by the team which we never deserved specially when representing our nation abroad.
I have not yet received any feedback from anyone but a lot of appreciation from people for bringing it up and opening the reality for them to read.
What are your suggestions to the government and policy makers for the upliftment of basketball and netball at par with other popular sports in India?
Sports education in our country is almost zero. No one knows even a single university which offers a good course for sports management in comparison with universities abroad. Sports coaches/ athletes/ officials/ administration/ management in our country is still outdated which needs to be improved. There are very few job opportunities available. Sportsmen here have to think a lot before taking any sport professionally. When the time comes for them to perform at the best, they leave the sport. There is no system of players being paid (match fees) for the matches we play at international level other than cricket. The government must look at this issue. In the metropolitans, we have best facilities in terms of infrastructure. Unfortunately students hardly get to use it. These sports hubs should be promoted with easy access for school/college students and professional athletes and should be open for their access all the time. Whenever I come across Indira Gandhi stadium, I see no athletes but only the dust all over. States as well as national federation play a major role in churning out talent from the hoards available. In India though, in sports apart from cricket, the administrators look least concerned. Year after year their own generations keep acquiring various posts in the committee. No player who has seen the ground realities gets the opportunity to do something good for the development of the sport.
In my letter to the PM, I had requested him to have a structure in place where athletes who have seen the modern way and techniques can give back to the upcoming generation for the development of sports. The senior people from federations stay in 5-star hotels with their families and do not even bother if the team representing them and the nation on the ground gets to have enough food so that they can play properly. These are the issues the government must pay heed to for the betterment of sports like netball.
What needs to be done to promote the netball as it’s new to India?
Netball is a much older game than basketball and a matter of fact it’s not new in India. It’s just that because of lack of care and attention to the game, it’s unnoticed by us Indians with our focus mostly on cricket or till the time we win an Olympic medal to prove that we really are athletes and play a sport and its high time you recognize that.