Monday, August 31, 2015

Provide jobs to all national medallists: Boxer Mandeep Jangra

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Mandeep Jangra was in for a ‘pleasant surprise’ when news trickled in that he will be bestowed with the coveted Arjuna Award. The 22-year-old Haryana boxer is perhaps one of the youngest boxers to be honoured with the Arjuna Award. Mandeep, who won a silver medal in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, is focusing on the upcoming Asian Amateur Boxing Championships. Mandeep, who is employed with Railways as a Senior TT, spoke in an exclusive interview.
Q: At 22, you were probably the youngest boxer to receive the Arjuna Award. Your thoughts.
A: Well, I did not expect to be awarded with the coveted Arjuna Award so early in my boxing career, but at the same time feel happy and honoured with the same. I hope this honour will spur me to scale new heights in the ring for India.
Q: You just returned home from a training stint in Italy ahead of the upcoming Asian Amateur Boxing Championships to be held in Bangkok.
A: The training stint in Italy was really good. I was able to spar with some top quality boxers along with organised fitness sessions. The scientific way of training in Italy will surely stand me in good stead for the future.
Q: How do you assess your chances for the upcoming Asian Amateur Boxing Championships?
A: I’m bullish about doing well this around – I had won a silver medal in the last edition in Amman and have fond memories of that tourney. Hope to go one better in the 2015 edition.
Q: The 2015 World Championship and the 2016 Rio Olympics are two major events happening in next twelve months.
A: The World Championship and Rio Olympics are the two biggest events – winning medals in these events is much more than winning medals in any other event, not that those other events are lesser in significance.
Q You box in the welterweight category (69-kg) – who are the world’s best boxers in your weight category?
A: Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Yeleussinov is the boxer to watch out for in my category. He is the current world champion and the current Asian Championship gold medallist. I had lost to him in the final in Amman in 2013 and will be facing him in the 2015 edition in Bangkok. Then, there are couple of boxers from Cuba and Ukraine, who are really solid, if I can outbox these boxers, I’m hopeful of making my country proud in the World Championship and Rio Olympics.
Q: Administration of Indian boxing has been in a mess, but our boxers have still managed to do well in international competitions. How well are you financially supported?
A: I have been fortunate to get all required support from government authorities, Anglian Medal Hunt Company and Adani group.
Q: Akhil Kumar has been your mentor- how much you owe your success to him?
A: He is everything for him. He was the one who told me to return to Haryana and train there when he met me in Pune in 2008 when I was a trainee boxer with the Army Sports Institute (ASI). My dad initially did not like the idea of quitting the Army job but later agree as I left Army and went back to Bhiwani to train under Akhil’s wife Poonam Beniwal – a former flyweight category national champion herself and was later mentored by Akhil. It is also nice that Akhil will receive the Arjuna Award on my behalf on August 29th as I will be busy playing in the Asian Boxing Championships in Bangkok.
Q: How is insecure is an amateur boxing career is India?
A: It is actually. Boxers put in a lot of effort through the junior ranks and only one boxer can represent the country in each weight category. I feel strongly about the country’s second, third or fourth ranked boxers in each category because they are easily forgotten once the senior nationals and the national trials are over. Sometimes, these talented boxers suffer serious injuries and no one comes to their aid as everything seems finished for them.
These boys struggle to find jobs to sustain themselves and are forced to give up the sport disillusioned. I want to appeal to the government to provide jobs to all medallists of senior nationals or else these boys would resort to nefarious ways like goondagiri, etc. Providing government jobs to all medallists of senior nationalists can also shore up the bench strength of each weight category of Indian boxing.


Indian volleyball needs media support in a big way: Gurinder Singh

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Gurinder Singh has waged many battles wearing the Indian jersey on the volleyball court. The former Indian captain was part of the team that stunned the mighty Japan in the league phase of the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games and also featured in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, where India’s spikers finished 5th, matching the fifth-place finish they achieved at the 2002 Busan Asian Games.
Singh, currently a head constable with the Punjab Police, spoke about Indian volleyball in an exclusive interview.

You missed the recent Asian Volleyball Championships held in Tehran, Iran, where the national side finished 11th going into the event with a largely youthful side?

I had to give the Asian Volleyball Championships a miss as I was down with a knee injury. It will take me a month or so to get back into competitive action. I have started running and will gradually get back to hitting the volleyball drills.

You have led the national men’s volleyball side for a fairly long time and also took part in two Asian Games – the 2010 and 2014 editions. What’s your take on Indian volleyball?

I think Indian volleyball is moving up. We finished fifth in the 2014 Incheon Asian Games – which was a remarkable achievement – remember, we had finished sixth in the 2010 Asiad. We were pitted against Asia’s top side, Iran, in our pool and although we lost in straight sets all three sets went down to the wire. We lost to Korea and Japan but not before putting up a fight. We lost to Qatar in the play-off round but beat them in the classification tie to take the fifth spot with a close five-setter win.

You were part of the 2010 Asian Games team that stunned gold medallists Japan in the league phase.

The win against Japan in the league phase was a new high for us, as beating one of Asia’s top teams is always good for a team’s morale and development. Japan went on to win the gold medal in the 2010 Asiad and again in the 2014 Asiad we met them in the quarterfinals. We lost fighting 2-3.

Indian volleyball team does not seem to be playing the world’s top teams regularly. How important it to play these teams on a consistent basis?

I think for Indian volleyball to go to the next level it is imperative that we play the world’s top teams frequently, as this can really help us match their game. European teams or even South Americans play differently from the Asian teams, so it important that we play them. Playing lesser-ranked sides will be of no help to us as only the lesser-ranked teams benefit. Indian volleyball has the potential to go places.

Do you think volleyball is popular across the country and just concentrated in a few pockets?

Volleyball is popular in India, just that there is not enough media coverage of volleyball and I feel the media must support the sport in a big way. Volleyball is quite popular in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka besides Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan. Volleyball infrastructure is in place across the country, but there is scope for a lot more work to be done.

How is the job scene for volleyball players in the country?

Well, jobs are there for volleyball players but not many in the Northern part, except for Punjab Police, where I’m employed. Most jobs are in the southern region. Indian Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, Railways are some public sector entities hiring volleyball players. The job scene is not that bad for men spikers but for women spikers there weren’t many jobs on offer. More women should also be employed.

India are ranked 39th in the world – do you think the team can climb up the rankings ladder?

As I said before we need to play the world’s top teams frequently and also play Asia’s top four sides like Iran, Korea, China and Japan. Iran is world number 10, while Korea is world number 15, China 16 and Japan 21. Playing top teams on a regular basis will help us develop our game and move up in rankings.

The Indian Volleyball League (IVL) kickstarted in 2011 and has not been held since then. What are your thoughts?

I do not have any information about it but yes, the IVL was a huge boost for Indian volleyball. The game will kept alive if more money is poured into the sport and the IVL has the potential to do that. Look at the Pro Kaabaddi League – how it has attained popularity due to superb television coverage by Star Sports. Such kind of league and proper television coverage will do a world of good to Indian volleyball. Indian volleyball needs PFL-like coverage.

Tough world championship qualifying rules will hurt Indian boxers

The 2015 Asian Boxing Championships is being billed as the ‘toughest’ Asian Championship so far thanks to the International Boxing Federation’s (AIBA) move to prune the number of qualifying slots for the 2015 AIBA World Championship from this Asian Championship. The 2015 AIBA World Championship will be held in Doha next month and a month before the marquee event, the 2015 Asian Boxing Championships is turning out to be a tense affair for all Asian countries, not just India.

AIBA’s decision to block Olympic quota places for winners of its semi-professional league – World Series of Boxing means qualification berths in each weight category from the ongoing Asian Boxing Championships will considerably reduce unlike earlier times when a quarterfinal finish guarantees a World Championship spot.

No wonder, one cannot fault anyone if there is any anxiety among the boxers – lesser qualification slots in each category means boxers are now not even sure of World Championship qualification even after reaching the semifinal. AIBA’s new qualification norms for the The 2015 AIBA World Championship sees only 66 quota places for the Asian contingent - Asia has got seven quotas from 49kg up to the 81kg categories including the host nation of the AIBA World Boxing Championships Qatar. For the highest two categories - 91 kg and +91 kg – Asia has only five quotas.

The 2015 Asian Boxing Championships has a record 188 boxers from 28 nations slugging it out – just shows how the stakes are high in the Bangkok event. The latest AIBA rules are not clear cut and even Indian boxing head coach Gurbax Singh Sandhu was left unsure how things actually works. “I don’t have clarity about how many boxers will qualify from each category. I have heard only the medalists and winners of box-off will make it to the World Championship,” he had said before the team left for Bangkok.

One hopes more Indian make it to the semifinals and ride their luck from there on and qualify for the World Championship.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Sandhu bemoans lack of international competitions for boxers

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Starved of top-notch international competitions, the Indian men boxers will have a battle on their hands as they take part in the 18th Asian Amateur Boxing Championship, which will be held in Bangkok from August 24 to September 6. Administrative wrangling has left the Indian pugilists operate without a proper authorised body as the sport is being run by an AIBA-constituted 5-member ad-hoc committee headed by former international referee Kishen Narsi.

What is worrying is that this ad-hoc committee is yet to take a call on whether they have found a group to run the sport in the country despite its formation two months ago in mid-June. Since the 2014 Incheon Asian Games, Indian boxers have taken part in only three events – Kings Cup, Presidents Cup and Doha International Event.
Given this scenario, it may not be fair to expect too much from the 10-member boxing contingent for the 18th Asian Amateur Boxing Championship.

“It’s hard to say how many medals India will win. Our boys have not had boxed against top boxers for a long time now, At the Doha International Tourney, some boxers were good but not all, which makes it for difficult for me to set my expectations from the 18th Asian Amateur Boxing Championship,” said Indian boxing head coach Gurbaksh Singh Sandhu.

Sandhu, who has been coaching the national boxers for two decades, is more concerned over the lack of top-notch competitions for the Indian boxers.

“I’m a coach and so I won’t like to say about the boxing administration in the country. All I want to say is that we need good international competitions so that our boxers are ready to roar in the ring in big events like the World Championship and Olympics,” quipped Sandhu.

The 18th Asian Amateur Boxing Championship is talked about as the ‘mandatory’ competition for boxers as it serves as the qualifying event for the 2015 AIBA World Championship to be held in Doha in October.
“Look, seven boxers will be picked from each weight category and one quota goes to the host nation, so effectively six slots are up for grabs. This means a boxer may not make it to the 2015 AIBA World Championship even if he reaches the quarterfinals, which was the case when boxers took part in the 2013 AIBA World Championship to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. A semifinal finish is a must for boxers to qualify and given the preparations and lack of top-notch competitions I would not like to say how many will qualify,” Sandhu revealed.
At the 17th Asian Amateur Boxing Championship held in Amman, Jordan in 2013, Indian men boxers cornered four medals – one gold, two silver and one bronze. Shiva Thapa is the defending champion in the 56-kg category, while L Devendro Singh and Mandeep Jangra will look to better their silver medal finish in the 2013 edition.

Manoj Kumar, who won the Arjuna Award last year under controversial circumstances, will be keen to better his bronze medal finish in the earlier edition.

Among the other boxers, Madan Lal and Manish Kaushik will compete in the 52 and 60 kg categories respectively. Vikas Krisan will replace Vijender Singh in the 75kg category, Kuldeep Singh (81kg), Manpreet Singh (91kg), Satish Kumar (+91kg) will fight in the higher weight categories.

Administrative Logjam: Boxing India ad-hoc committee must find a body to run the sport

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Indian boxing is indeed going through trying times. Administration wrangling has hurt the sport severely over the last few months, prompting the International Boxing Federation (AIBA) to appoint a five-member ad-hoc committee headed by former international referee and the country’s representative in the world body, Kishen Narsi, to find a group that can organise and administer the sport in the country last June.

The forming of this ad-hoc committee followed high ‘administrative drama’ in the month of May when Boxing India – a body which secured AIBA recognition in September 2014 after the world body had banned the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) in December 2012 – saw its president Sandeep Jajodia being ousted after a no-confidence motion was passed against him by several state units and voted out, as they were unhappy with his functioning as well as that of secretary Jay Kowli, who stepped down hours before the special general meeting.

One thought that Indian boxing will be back to its best – to run the sport in an organised manner – when AIBA recognised Boxing India as the authorised body to run boxing in the country.

Sadly, subtle politicking took centre stage as several state units kept throwing a spanner in the works of Boxing India, who despite their best efforts failed to secure the recognition of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), which meant funds were not coming to the coffers of Boxing India, which made it difficult for the Sandeep Jajodia-Jay Kowli and his team to run the sport. One is not sure why the IOA did not accord recognition to Boxing India and there were hushed whispers that IOA officials had a say in the ouster of Jajodia at the SGM.

Nagaland Boxing Association secretary Meren Paul took over as interim Boxing India President after the exit of Jajodia, but within a month of that happening, the AIBA constituted the Kishen Narsi-headed five-member ad-hoc committee (it also includes ousted Boxing India secretary Jay Kowli as well as SAI DG Injeti Srinivas). It’s been close to two months that the ad-hoc committee was appointed and one really do not know for sure what they have been doing during this period to find a group that can run the sport in the country.

“This ad-hoc committee has been holding trials for various competitions, but no one really knows what’s the status as far as finding a group to run the sport is concerned. It is time the Sports Ministry intervenes and fixes some accountability on this ad-hoc committe or formulate a strategy to ensure boxing is running smoothly through an efficient, committed body,” says a former national coach.

With the 2016 Rio Olympics just a year away, boxing is one sport where India can seriously harbour medal hopes even after the ‘pro route’ taken by star pugilist Vijender Singh. The likes of Devendro Singh, Vikash Krishnan Yadav, Shiva Thapa and Sumit Sangwan are bright prospects and on any given day they are capable of upsetting the applecart of top boxers.

More than medals, it is so crucial that this Kishen Narsi-headed five-member ad-hoc committee carries out his primary job of finding a group to run the sport and not drag its feet further as it can have a detrimental effect on the interests of Indian boxing. To be fair to the ad-hoc committee, if they are finding it hard to get a group to run the sport, they must be honest about it and keep the Sports Ministry in the know. Anymore administrative deadlock is the last thing Indian boxing needs.

Determined to change medal colour: Geeta Phogat

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Indian wrestler Geeta Phogat won India’s first ever gold medal in women’s wrestling in 2010 at that year’s Commonwealth Games. She will participate in the World Wrestling Championships in Las Vegas, USA this September.

How is your preparation for the upcoming World Wrestling Championship to be held in Las Vegas, USA from September 7-15?

I’m training hard for the World Wrestling Championship – my camp at SAI Lucknow has been quite fruitful for me, as well as all the women wrestlers. This will be my third world championship and I’m confident of putting up a good show. Our wrestling contingent was slated to leave for USA on August 16, but owing to visa issues, we are now travelling next week.

You created history when you won a bronze medal in the 2012 World Wrestling Championship in Canada – a same event where your youngster sister Babita attained a podium finish. How did that feel?

The 2012 World Wrestling Championship will always be special for me as it was for the first time that Indian women grapplers won a medal at the World Wrestling Championship. I got the better of Ukranie’s Nataliya Synyshyn in the bronze medal play-off bout and it was a fantastic moment for me.

You were laid low with a prolonged knee injury in 2013, which put you out of competitive action for a year and a half.

I took part in the 2013 World Wrestling Championship in the 58-kg category and lost in the first round. In February 2014 I sustained a ligament tear on my right knee and underwent surgery in April, thus putting me out of competitive action for a long while.

How difficult is it to make a comeback from a prolonged injury?

Trust me, it’s not easy. I really worked hard on my rehab and defeated Sakshi Malik in the selection trials to seal my spot for the World Wrestling Championship. During the time I was forced out of action, other grapplers replaced me and were performing well, so it is not easy to stage a comeback.

You became the first female Indian wrestler to win a medal in a major competition – a gold medal finish at the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games.

The 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games is my most satisfying achievement because it came in front of the home crowd. I know competition in the World Wrestling Championship is stiffer than Commonwealth Games, but winning in your own backyard is special.

I’m determined to go beyond my bronze medal finish at the 2012 World Wrestling Championship and change the colour of my medal. My preparations have been good so far – keeping my fingers crossed!

You will be grappling in the 58-kg at the 2015 World Wrestling Championship – a category new for you as you have always competed in the 55-kg category.

This category is new to me – I only took part in the
2015 Asian Wrestling Championship and won a bronze. I will have to get used to this category and also do some homework on the top grapplers in this category although I know that Japan’s Saori Yoshida is an overwhelming favourite – she was won three Olympic gold medals as well as four Asiad gold medals besides winning the World Championship twelve times. I’m going to give my best shot in Las Vegas.

The Pro Wrestling League was launched recently – a big boost for Indian wrestling?

Absolutely! It will benefit youngsters as well as encourage wrestlers from all corners of the country to take up this sport. Indian wrestling will richly benefit from the Pro Wrestling League. 

Gopichand is India's best coach till date: Srikanth

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
The upcoming World Badminton Championship is of prime focus for India’s top men singles shuttler Kidambi Srikanth. The 22-year-old is feeling good after some strenuous practice sessions over the last few weeks for the big-ticket event to be held in China. Srikanth, who won two singles titles this year, is upbeat about going the distance if he can consistent. He spoke in an exclusive interview.


Q You must be raring to go for the upcoming BWF World Championship?

A: I have been putting in the hard yards over the last few years and hope to fare well in the World Championship. It won’t be easy but I will give my best shot.

Q Your are ranked fourth in the world – do you believe you can go the distance in the World Championship?

A: I think if I bring out my A-game in each match, I’m sure of conquering anyone along the way. It’s all about putting your best show in every match.

Q Who are the guys you see posing a potential threat to your title-winning aspirations?

A: Look, in modern badminton no player is unbeatable. On a given day any player irrespective of his ranking can be beaten. In fact, any shuttler in the top-30 can beat you – it is that competitive.

Q 2015 has been a decent year for you – you won the Swiss Open and Indian Open Super Series Tourney.

A: To be honest, those good results were good for me, not just that I had some bad results after that which will stand me in good stead for the future.

Q Every player can have a bad tournament – what have you learned from your bad tournaments?

A: I have realized that I have to focus more than I have been doing till now. It’s all about pocketing the crucial points and the only way to see those go in your favour is to focus more. You can’t relax for one point, forget one game and it so crucial to stay calm and focused.

Q Given the cut-throat competition how important it is for you to keep adding new weapons to your armoury?

A: First of all, you have to maintain your own game – that’s more important and once you do that you can adding news weapons to outmanoeuvre your opponent.

Q Pullela Gopichand has been doing an outstanding job as national head coach ever since he took charge in 2002. Your thoughts.

A: In my book, he is the best Indian coach till date. Look at the way our shuttlers are coming up. We have so many singles players in the top-20 – even our doubles players are also doing well. I don’t think Indian badminton has seen so much success during the tenure of any other coach.

Q Badminton Association of India (BAI) has roped in the services of a doubles coach from Malaysia.

A: It’s a good move for the future. He is expected to take charge by August-end or early next month. I’m sure Indian doubles players will hit new strides under him.

Q The likes of Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa have been really doing well – reaching their career best ranking of 12.

A: Jwala-Ashwini pair are in the middle of a great run and so two are the men doubles pair of Manu Attri and B Sumeeth Reddy and like Jwala-Ashwini have broken into the top-20, which just shows not just singles Indian badminton is coming up in leaps and bounds.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Indian badminton has grown not because of only one player: Jwala Gutta

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa are riding on a wave on confidence, especially after they annexed the Canadian Open women’s doubles crown beating a higher-ranked Dutch pair in the final. The country’s numero uno women’s doubles pair attained their career-best ranking of 12 and are now keyed up for the upcoming World Badminton Championship, which is kicking off in China in the second week of August.

Jwala Gutta spoke about Indian badminton and much more in an exclusive interview over the phone.

Here are the excerpts:

Q. How you assess your chances for the upcoming World Badminton Championship?

We (me and Ashwini) have been training hard and we are really excited; hopefully we will come out with a strong performance in the World Badminton Championship.

Q. You guys have reached your career-best ranking of 12. How do you think the road ahead will be as far as breaking into the top-10 is concerned?

Of course, we have really worked hard to reach our career-best world ranking of 12, but to stay put in the top-10 is even more difficult. We have to be really consistent to stay in the top-10 for a longer period.

Q. It appears that women’s doubles is not taken seriously, resulting in the country not churning out quality doubles pairs. Your thoughts.

If you look at the top badminton playing nations like China, Japan Korea among others, you will see that they put up four or five pairs in each tournament be it in men’s doubles, women’s doubles or mixed doubles. As for India, we end up fielding one pair in each category, which is not the way to go about it. We need to field more doubles pairs in different categories and that way we could see doubles in India get more competitive.

Q. What’s your take for the upliftment of doubles in India?

First of all, you need to have a separate doubles camp and not club it with the singles camp. A singles player does not play doubles and a doubles player does not play singles, so both camps should be conducted separately. Doubles players must get the same kind of facilities like our singles players get like personal trainers, physio, etc. Doubles players also need to be encouraged more in the form of cash awards, felicitations handed to singles players. I’m sure if these things are taken of, doubles will really grow in India.

Q. What are the attributes that really make Jwala-Ashwini such a potent doubles force?

Ashwini Ponnappa Jwala Gutta
Ashwini Ponnappa (L) and Jwala Gutta pose with the silver medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games
We have great understanding and are one of the attacking doubles players in the world. Ashwini is a hard-hitter and opponents are scared to be at the receiving end. We have tremendous self-belief, we are fighters and fearless. All these qualities have helped us to forge a robust doubles combination.

Q. Jwala Gutta is known as a girl who likes to speak her mind, which is often construed as ‘criticism’ in most quarters. What’s your take?

I have been playing international badminton since 2005 and have won 35 international titles. I have achieved a lot in badminton doubles and I didn’t have a role model while picking up this sport. I’m the country’s best doubles player and if I say something, what stops people from taking it as a suggestion and not as a criticism. We are all part of the badminton fraternity and I will never do anything to harm the sport.
All I say is for the betterment of Indian badminton and concerned people should take what I say in the right spirit and not as anything else. Let’s understand one thing – Indian badminton has grown in leaps and bounds over the years and this has happened not because of any one player, and we all, including me and Ashwini have also contributed towards it.

Q. The Badminton Association of India (BAI) has roped in a doubles coach for the national side. Do you see it as a positive augury?

Definitely, it’s a step in the right direction. We are happy with this development and I hope the new doubles coach is given a free hand in performing his coaching duties sans any interference from any quarter.

Q. You guys were not included in the first two lists of the TOP scheme. How optimistic are you guys about your inclusion in this scheme?

We are staying positive about it and hope we are part of the scheme.

Q. To play in the 2016 Rio Olympics, you guys need to be in the top-13 by April 2016. Is it a challenge for you guys to maintain your current ranking of 12 till mid next year?

It is, no doubt, a challenge, but we are on a roll and so will back ourselves to make the Olympic cut.

Injured-ravaged Suranjoy Singh quits amateur boxing; Becomes a coach

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
Manipuri boxers always bring some ‘extra flair’ to the ring. Over the years, we have seen N Dingko Singh catapult Indian boxing into spotlight – we all remember how he stunned the then World No. 3 Wong Prages Sontaya in front of his home crowd in the semifinals en route to a gold medal finish at the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games. Among the present crop of boxers, Laishram Devendro Singh rewinds memories of how Dingko used to box in his heydays.
Devendro with his ‘open guard style’ has attained huge popularity in Indian boxing circles with a surprise quarterfinal appearance at the 2012 London Olympics. There was one Suranjoy Singh, who is probably not remembered much like Dingko and Devendro, but that should not be a reason for us to discount his boxing prowess. Suranjoy was another boxing talent from Manipur, who battled a slew of injuries over a length period of time and missed the 2004, 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

Suranjoy ended India’s 15-year gold drought in 2009

29 is not age to retire, but Suranjoy was compelled to quit as consistent leg injuries were preventing him from making himself available for selection for national trials so that he can be part of the national contingent. The 2009-2010 period were the best moments of his boxing career.
At the 2009 Asian Boxing Championship in Zhuhai, China, Suranjoy won the European Grand Prix gold in Czech Republic in May 2009 and soon followed it up with a big performance in June 2009 – ending India’s 15-year gold drought claiming the top spot in the 51-kg category (Rajkumar Sangwan was the last boxer to win a gold in the Asian Boxing Championship when he cornered glory in the superheavyweight category in the 1994 edition).
He won the AIBA's President's Cup gold in December 2009, as well bagging gold medals in the A.K. Mishra Memorial International tournament and Commonwealth Boxing Championships and capped off a stellar run with a gold medal finish at the 2010 New Delhi Commonwealth Games. In the same year, he won a bronze at the 2010 Asian Games in China.

Suranjoy joins Dingko Singh

The above achievements are enough indication that Suranjoy has done a lot for Indian boxing, but injuries derailed his career which meant 2013 was his last year as an amateur boxer. Fast realizing that the spate of injuries are not allowing him to prosper as a boxer, he choose to shun competitive boxing and zeroed in on a coaching as a career option. He is now pursuing a diploma in boxing coaching at the National Institute of Sports (NIS), Patiala.
Suranjoy, who is employed with Indian Navy in Mumbai, will join Dingko Singh in the coaching seat. Dingko is also employed with Indian Navy, now coaches youngsters at the SAI Imphal centre and is also a member of the national boxing selection committee headed by Gopal Devang, a former stalwart, who won two medals at Asiads.
So many boxers have decided to bid adieu to amateur boxing because of career-threatening injuries and Suranjoy is just one among many. One hopes Indian boxing can make full use of Suranjoy – the coach, once he wraps up his NIS coaching diploma and gets into the thick of action from the sidelines.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Interview with Yadwinder Singh: "Indian basketball needs IPL-like league"

This piece was published in Sportskeeda
He brings experience to the Indian men’s basketball team. Yadwinder Singh has been part of many battles which the national team have waged over the years since making his international debut in 2005. Son of a farmer, he hails from Rasulpur Khurd village in Punjab and sharpened his skills at the famous Ludhiana Basketball Academy (LBA) from 2003 to 2007. The 29-year-old, who played a key role in Indian Railways winning the Senior Nationals for three consecutive editions, later switched to ONGC. Yadwinder, who featured in the 2010 and 2014 Asian Games, spoke in an exclusive interview.

Q India performed impressively in the recent 2015 South Asian Basketball Championship (SABA) in Bengaluru, in the process qualifying for the upcoming FIBA Asian Championship?

A: Our team really fared well in the SABA championship and it was nice to see our team defend the title. Hopefully our team will do well in future.

Q The national team was without many of its key players – including you and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi for the South Asian Basketball Championship (SABA) tourney.

A: I could not play in the SABA championship as I could not secure the required permission from my employers ONGC. Vishesh also missed it along with a few others. Hopefully I will be available for the forthcoming FIBA Asian Championship.

Q India finished 11th at the 2013 FIBA Asian Championship in Manila. How do you assess our chances in the 2015 edition?

A: It will not be easy. We are placed in Pool A alongside Iran, Japan and Malaysia. Iran are the defending champions and they have won three of the last four Asian championships. so we have to be at our best.

Q You are a product of the famous Ludhiana Basketball Academy, which has also produced the likes of Amyjot Singh and Amritpal Pal Singh.

A: The Ludhiana Basketball Academy is a great place to learn. It has consistently served as a supply line to the national team. In 2011, the Indian team had as many as seven players from LBA and even now there are five or six guys from LBA in the current side. I took my initial basic coaching from Fateh Chand in Amritsar before I honed my skills under late Dr Subramanium at LBA.

Q Indian basketball probably reached a new high when they upset mighty China in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup in Wuhan.

A: It was a big day for Indian basketball – for the first time we beat China 65-58 and that too, in front of their home crowd. We played exceptionally well to get past them and the win really gave us momentum going into the future games.

Q Satnam Singh Bhamara became the first Indian to make it to the NBA – a shot in the arm for Indian basketball.

A: He is a very hardworking and talented and we all are happy to see play in the NBA. I’m sure his feat will inspire more youngsters to pursue basketball seriously.

Q How do you look at the health of Indian basketball?

A: Basketball is getting more and more popular in India. The national team is also improving and starting to beat top teams in Asia or at least give them a run for their money. If you look closely, we don’t lose heavily against top teams as was the case earlier- the points gap has been narrowed in recent times and now the points difference is around ten to fifteen points. Most sports have started a league and an Indian Basketball League like IPL is a must for the sport. I hope IBL happens sooner than later.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Indian volleyball in right health despite odds

This piece was published in Sportskeeda

Indian volleyball has been coming up in leaps and bounds over the recent years, but the profile of the sport in the country has seen little change, thanks to poor or absolutely absent media coverage and encouragement.

Non-cricket sports like volleyball struggle to assert themselves in the media space, and one wonders how many really know that India finished a laudable 5th  at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. The fifth-place finish by the Indian team is indeed praiseworthy because they finished behind Asia’s top four teams – Iran, Japan, South Korea and China.

The Asian Games showing proves India’s immense volleyball talent, but if adequate care is not taken to encourage the sport, it may hit a downward spiral sooner rather than later. Volleyball hasn’t quite spread to all parts of the country, although it is popular in the country’s rural belts.

The sport has attained some popularity in Punjab, and enjoys a major presence in Southern Indian states likes Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Barring this, most other parts of the country see mediocre interest at best. “There is a need to encourage volleyball. Barring some southern states and a few others, the sport despite its popularity in rural belts hasn’t attracted all and sundry. Hiring on sports quota has dried up with the likes of Indian Railways, ONGC, Indian Overseas, Indian Bank among a few others recruiting volleyball players. This applies to both men and women spikers,” said a Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) official.
Volleyball has immense potential in the country, but unless more jobs are on offer, youth will not want to pick up the sport – a point once raised by former Indian volleyball head coach GE Sridharan.

Despite all odds, however, the Indian men’s volleyball team is taking part in the 2015 Asian Volleyball Championship in Tehran, hoping to build on the gains attained at the 2014 Asian Games.
The national team has a new captain in S Prabagaran from Tamil Nadu, who is touted as one of the best attackers in the country. They will also have a new coach, A Venkatesan, also from Tamil Nadu. Prabagaran was one of the chief architects of India’s 5th place finish at the 2014 Asiad, helping his employers, Indian Railways, win the national games, inter-railways events and the World Railway Games.

Prabagaran’s side, which has a fair sprinkling of youngsters, will not find it easy as they are pitted in a group that features strong sides such as Turkmenistan, Australia and Qatar. One hopes that the Indian spikers will reach the quarterfinals and beyond at the 2015 Asian Volleyball Championship and keep the sport alive and kicking.