Sunday, May 15, 2016

Rio Olympics 2016: WFI must act quickly on men’s freestyle 74-kg representation

He won gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games despite being a late-minute entrant and had won a bronze at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games as well. It is seen in Indian wrestling that selection trials are held for each weight category to assess the current form of a grappler before any international event, and when a quota is earned for Olympics, a person who wins the quota invariably gets to play in the Olympics.

The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) is greeted by an ‘unwanted crisis’ – whom to pick in the men’s freestyle 74kg for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The controversy got its birth after Narsingh Yadav won a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championship in Las Vegas, USA last year- thus ensuring the country’s Olympic quota for that weight category.

It was the WFI who had talked about holding trials to pick the country’s representative in the men’s freestyle 74kg. What hasn’t helped matters is that both players are openly talking about it in public domain. Narsingh Yadav has been vocal that he deserves the right to represent India at Rio.

The Mumbai lad has for a long time wrestled in the 74kg, while Sushil Kumar switched to 74kg from 66kg only a few years back. Performance counts and Narsingh has won medals at major international competitions.
Sushil is not saying he should be picked ahead of Narsingh. All he is asking for is a trial between the two.
Narsingh has been harping on this point and to some extent appears justified in saying so.
Sushil hasn’t played in any competitive event since the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games – this may just go against him but make no mistake, this champion wrestler is believed to be training very hard for the Rio Olympics. Narsingh has been categorical that he deserved to book the flight to Rio for the men’s freestyle 74kg.

It may not be easy for the WFI to satisfy the concerns of both wrestlers. A country, which rides high on emotions and past laurels, may just see Sushil have the last laugh – the much-anticipated trial could be the best possible answer to calm the chit-chat going on in public domain.

The WFI must talk to both wrestlers and ask them to refrain from making comments on the issue. The federation, on its part, must take a call sooner than later so that the Olympic preparations of the wrestling contingent remain the main focus area and not the unwanted controversy generated over who gets to represent India at the Rio Olympics in the men’s freestyle 74kg.

Saweety Boora braces for 2016 AIBA World Championship

She oozes bundles of positive energy and often her soft-spoken exterior belies her fierce-in-ring determination. Saweety Boora is just 22 and seems like she has already achieved a lot in the international circuit. For someone, who hogged the limelight when she won the 2009 Senior Nationals, this Hisar lass has been making the most of the opportunities coming her way. Her back-to-back gold medals in the 2013 and 2014 Senior Nationals literally readied her for the big league.

She came up with a blockbuster performance at the 2014 AIBA World Championship in Jeju City, Korea. Almost a non-entity when she headed to Korea for the marquee event, she ensured Indian boxing fans will at least remember her for a long time.

The boxer made her way into the final, where she lost to China’s Yang Xiaoli. A silver medal in her debut World Championship is some achievement – two years passed by and Saweety is hungrier than ever to improve on her silver medal of 2014 and pocket the yellow metal. “I’m training hard for the 2016 AIBA World Championship in Kazakhstan. Hopefully, I will be able to live up to the expectations of everyone,” Saweety says in an informal chat.

Saweety, who works with the Income Tax department as Inspector, knows a podium finish in a world championship is a tough challenge. “Boxers are really strong from most countries, especially China and Kazakhstan. I have to deliver my best to match them,” she puts things in perspective.

The demure boxer is clearly richer with the 2014 world championship experience. Saweety also won a silver medal at the 2015 Asian Confederation Championship in China, again losing to the same Chinese opponent who denied her a gold medal at the 2014 AIBA World Championship.

“She is a tough nut to crack. I have lost to her twice and will have my plans ready for her this time around. She is not an easy boxer to face up to for sure,” Boora says.

Clearly, Indian boxing fans will hope for big things from Saweety.

Interview with Tanvi Lad: "Funding is crucial to my progress"

Tanvi Lad is an exciting women singles prospect, who is quietly doing the hard yards in pursuit of clambering up the ranking ladder and making the country proud. The Mumbai youngster who capped off a runner-up finish at the 2016 Senior Nationals in Chandigarh, spoke about her game and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. Indian badminton has seen the likes of Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu dominate the women’s singles scene – how do you see yourself as a significant third force in the women’s singles category for India?

Yes indeed! Saina and Sindhu have dominated the women singles scene. However, I always have an inner belief that I too, can compete at the highest level of world badminton and be successful. With
passion for my game so strong, I feel that coupled with my strong work ethic, discipline and untiring dedication, and the right exposure in tournaments, it’s only a matter of time before I start performing really well on the world stage.

Q. Do you play doubles regularly – how difficult it is to balance workload for both singles and doubles?

After winning the under-16 doubles national title, I quit playing competitive doubles. I have focussed my energies entirely on singles as both events require specialised training to compete at the highest levels. At the Super Series level, every round is like a final, so recovery is very important and playing two events thus becomes very difficult.

Q. How would you sum up your singles performance in 2016 so far?

 would like to term 2016 as a comeback year after ‘a not so great 2015’. I’m quite happy with the corrections and the improvements that I have made in my game – this was evident in my match vs Saina at the 2016 India Open and subsequently at the National Championships at Chandigarh. So I’m happy with my progress and looking forward to the year ahead.

Q. You lost the 2016 Senior Nationals final to PC Thulasi in Chandigarh – throw light on your overall experience in the nationals?

Overall I had a satisfying performance at the Senior Nationals – three months prior to the event I was working on certain long-pending corrections in footwork and other technical stuff. It is not an easy task at this stage of my career to correct things that I have been used to doing for so many years.

So my performance was a reflection that my progress is happening on the right track, though there still is a lot of work to accomplish. Although unfortunately I lost the Senior Nationals final, I played the right game but made errors as my new game style is not entirely a part of me as yet but I was happy with the overall performance.

You have a bit of healthy rivalry with PC Thulasi – both are employed with PSPB as well. Your thoughts.

me and Thulasi have similar game styles and even our work ethic is very similar. We have played some gruelling matches with our longest being 1 hour 35 mins!! We share a healthy rivalry and respect each other.

Q. At the 2015 Tata Open International Challenge, you upset reigning World Junior champion Jin Wei Goh of Malaysia – must be carrying fond memories of that win.

Yes, that was a good win!! It was the first round and she had been in
great form that year winning the world juniors and some events in Europe but I went in and played a great match – I was hitting the lines well and defending well as well - she probably couldn’t read my game.

Q. The 2013 Swiss International Tournament was your maiden international appearance in singles – how special was it for you?

The Swiss International Challenge is a special memory, especially the semifinal against the Japanese opponent which was a gruelling hard fought win! The medal ceremony was special too. Although it was a challenge event, the national anthem was played at the time of awarding the medal, which was quite emotional!!

Q. Where do you want to be in terms of rankings by 2016-end?

I aim to break into top 25 in the next one year but funding for me is very crucial. In order to achieve this
target I need to go out and compete in at least 12-15 events. This is an expensive affair and a major concern for me at the moment. I need a good sponsor to further my aspirations.

Q. What improvement areas you want to focus on your game?

I’m working on certain technical corrections - footwork and racket carriage and overall becoming a lot more proactive rather than reactive on court.

Q. Tell us a bit how you started playing badminton – all coaches you played under and their duration and place?

I started playing with Hufrish Nariman at Bombay gym – I won my 1st Inter-school title under her. I trained from the age of 13-19 years with Uday Pawar and won the Junior Nationals under him.

Moved to the national camp in Hyderabad in 2012 and trained at the Gopichand academy under chief national coach Pullela Gopichand Sir and have been there for the past 3 years…I had some great wins like the 2014 Bahrain International Challenge 2014, runners-up at 2013 Swiss International, bronze medal at the Asian games and 2014 Uber Cup 2014 – all are special memories.
I have been undergoing a short corrective stint with Tom John in Bangalore over the last three months. At each stage of my journey as a player, each coach has done their very best for me and contributed to the player I’m today! I owe everything to them!

Q. How do you unwind when you are not playing badminton?

I enjoy indulging in retail therapy, swimming and listening to music helps me destress and relaxing with family and friends is a true indulgence that I rarely get to enjoy!

The 2016 AIBA World Championship will not just be about snapping up Olympic spots – for many it will be much more than. India have fond memories of the 2014 AIBA World Championship held in Jeju City, Korea, where they bagged two silver medals via Sarjubala Devi (48 kg) and Saweety Bora (81kg).

A lot will be expected from the Indian women boxers as they sweat it out at the ongoing national camp for the upcoming 2016 AIBA World Championship to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan from May 19-27.  Indian women pugilists will be looking to leave a big impression in the nine-day showpiece event where they are expected to not just focus on attaining a podium finish but sealing Olympic berths for three available weight categories.

Iconic MC Mary Kom will, of course, be the focus of all attention as she will make a bid to qualify for the Olympics which is set to be her boxing swansong. L Sarita Devi and Pooja Rani will have to bring their best to the ring if they are harbouring hopes of taking the ring in Rio.

Both Sarjubala and Saweety are talented youngsters and it will not be much of a surprise if they churn out an encore of 2014.

Indian women boxers have always done well at the AIBA World Championship – barring the 2010 edition, where they won only one medal, the country’s boxers have always made a mark. “All our boxers are working hard – let’s hope for the best,” says Indian women boxing coach Anoop Kumar.
The Indian women boxing coach believes past performances count for nothing. “Our boxers have done well in the last World Championships but we have to understand one thing – competition is fiercer than ever as every country is working hard to corner glory in the ring,” he says.
Anoop is bullish about India improving on their haul of two silver medals at the last edition. “Our girls have the potential to surprise any opponent but we hope to come home with a rich haul of medals,” he signs off.
Of course, there are reasons to be optimistic – after all, the boxing contingent has the likes of Mary Kom, Sarita, Sarjubala and Saweety to turn it on at Astana.

Interview with wrestler Hardeep Singh: "Will strive to live up to expectations in Rio"

It’s not often that India have a representation in greco-roman wrestling at the Olympics. And the 2016 Rio Olympics will feature talented Haryana grappler Hardeep Singh in the 98-kg category.
Hardeep is the first Indian greco-roman wrestler to qualify for the Olympics in twelve years, and the first one to make the cut in the heavyweight category. The Railway employee, who started as a freestyle wrestler before switching to greco-roman wrestling, spoke about the upcoming Rio Olympics and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. How does it feel to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics considering the fact that you are the country’s first greco-roman wrestler to represent the country after a gap of twelve years?

Bahut acha laga
(Felt really good) when I reached the final of the 98-kg in the Asian Qualifying Tournament in Astana, Kazakhstan as it ensured my Olympic berth. My confidence is really high and I hope to build on this momentum at Rio. Our other greco-roman wrestlers fought really hard and lost narrowly and it is not that I only performed well. I know expectations will be high and I will strive to live up to them.

Q. You had bagged a silver medal at the 2016 Asian Wrestling Championship in Bangkok, where you lost to Iran’s
Mehdi Aliyari in the 98-kg final.

Winning a silver medal at Bangkok really gave me a lot of self-belief – it made me feel that I can win on the big stage. Of course, I could not bring my A-game in the final and lost comprehensively to Mehdi, but the runners-up finish was good for my confidence ahead of the Olympic qualifiers in Astana.

Q. At the 2016 Asian Qualifying Tournament in Astana, you outwrestled opponents from Turkemistan and Kazakhstan en route to the final.

Both bouts were pretty one-sided. The semifinal against Margulan Assembekov was a tactical fought bout as I worked on tiring him out - it worked and I won easily.

Q. You did not take the ring for the final and conceded it to China’s Xiao Di owing to an elbow injury.

I had sustained this elbow injury during the 2016 Asian Wrestling Championship in Bangkok and some niggles were still there in Astana. I aggravated it more during my semifinal bout and my coaches keeping the Olympics in mind decided I concede the final bout.

Q. Greco-roman wrestling hasn’t seen much success in India unlike freestyle wrestling – you are only the sixth greco-roman grappler to qualify for the Olympics. Do you think your Olympic qualifying feat will serve as a big boost to the sport in the country?

I really hope so as I feel that there is lot of potential for greco-roman wrestling in India. I’m confident more greco-roman grapplers will burst on to the scene and reap laurels for the country.

Q. You have dominated the national scene as well in the greco-roman 98-kg category – it must have helped you when you hit the international stage.

Of course, it helps in a big way as there is nothing like winning. I have won the gold medal at the senior nationals for three consecutive years in greco-roman 98-kg – 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Q. You started off as freestyle wrestler early in your career but switched to greco-roman after the 2009 Junior Nationals.

I did start my wrestling career in freestyle category but in 2009 my coach Ranbir Singh asked me to switch to greco-roman and there has not been any looking back after that.

Q. Tell us a bit about your family?

I hail from Dohla village of Haryana's Jind district – my father is a farmer and I have one sister and one younger brother - both are married.

Q. You are 26 – you have got your younger brother married – when will you tie the knot?

Olympics is my focus area – I don’t think I will get married at least for next three-four years (grins).

Rio Olympics 2016: Indian weightlifters exude hope before the games

It was one final opportunity for the Indian weightlifters to make a mark at the 2016 Asian Weightlifting Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. And it was a final opportunity simply because it was the last Olympic qualifying event with only the African, Oceania and Pan American Championships being held in the months of May and June.

A lot was at stake for the Indian weightlifting in Tashkent and they did not disappoint bagging two Olympic quotas in both the men’s and women’s section. The Indian women comprising the likes of Sanjita Chanu and Mirabai Chanu put up a dogged performance logging 100 points in the women’s team event to finish third behind Vietnam and Uzbekistan.

The Indian men accumulated 129 points to finish sixth in the men’s team event. The qualification rules stipulate that countries must finish in the top-seven to make the Olympic cut. 

The two Olympic berths must be a welcome relief for the Indian weightlifting contingent after the country’s lifters had turned in a disappointing performance at the 2015 World Weightlifting Championship in Houston, USA.

Indian weightlifting head coach Vijay Sharma had expressed his optimism before heading for Uzbekistan that the team would finish in the top seven and the lifters just did that.

Sharma, a former national-level weightlifter, is relieved to see the country bag two Olympic berths. “I’m happy to see our weightlifters bag two Olympic quotas. It augurs well for the future. I was confident that both our men and women teams will do well in Tashkent and they performed well. Our women team finished third which is a creditable achievement,” he says with elation.

The Indian Weightlifting Federation (IWLF) will conduct trials across all weight divisions to select two lifters -- one man and one woman -- to represent the country at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The federation will decide on the date of the trials later. “Our boys and girls will take a break and gear up for the nationals. The trials will be competitive as Olympic berths are up for grabs. We want our lifters to be in the podium finish, although it will not be easy,” Sarma quips.

One hopes that the Indian lifters makes the most of the two Olympic quota places and makes the country proud in Rio.

Boxing Federation of India set to introduce zonal representation system

Boxing is all set to change the way it is run in the country. The newly-created Boxing Federation of India is all set to introduce the zonal representation system in their Executive Committee – a move which appears to be a step in the right direction.

The federation’s new constitution divides India into 8 zones - each zone are expected to comprise about 4-5 state units and 16 executive committee members. “I think it is a forward-looking move.

“These eight zones will comprise 8 zonal vice presidents and 8 zonal secretaries – they will be selected from its all India voters - 2 each from BFI's 36 member states & union territories,” an official closely involved in the latest developments said.

Boxing Federation of India has also decided to induct boxers directly in the executive committee. 4 boxers - 2 males and 2 female will be elected in the federation’s executive committee independently. “2 past performers and 2 practicing Champions ( 1 male + 1 female each ) will be inducted in the BFI Executive Committee through an independent election to be held among boxers,” the official added.

There is another positive development as well - the Sports Ministry has given its NOC to the registration of the Boxing Federation of India federation. “This is really good news for all of us. The Ministry will send an observer for the elections also. We also need to get recognition of the Indian Olympic Association (IOC) – once we get that everything will fall in place,” the official.
Indian boxing is looking good for now, and formation of the federation seems to be only a ‘matter of time’ – hopefully, Indian boxers will get to box in the Rio Olympics under the national flag and not under the AIBA as was the case in recent times.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Interview with Parupalli Kashyap: "Hope to return to competitive action by June"


Injuries are part and parcel of a sportsperson’s life. India’s ace shuttler Parupalli Kashyap is trying hard to take this injury setback in his stride – setback because the injury will not heal in time for him to be available for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The 29-year-old Hyderabad lad is expected to return to competitive action by June. The cut-off date for Olympic qualification was May 4 and Kashyap’s knee injury puts a seal of confirmation on him not playing in the Rio Olympics. He talks about his injury and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. How is your rehab program going on?

It’s been going on okay. I think I will need about three weeks for my medial collateral ligament (MCL) injury my knee to heal. After the MCL heals my doctors will take a call on my future course of action.

I would like to thank Olympic Gold Quest for taking good care of me after I slipped and fell in the pre-quarterfinal of the German Open. OGQ brought me to Mumbai and arranged the doctors and physios for me.

Q. Is there still any outside chance of you making your second Olympic appearance?

To be honest, my Olympic-playing hopes are over. May 4 was the cut-off date for the world’s top 16 to make the cut and since I have missing tournaments one after another due to my injury, my rankings also fell and now it is a reality that I won’t be playing in the Rio Olympics.

Q. Is it because May is the cut-off date for the world’s top 16 to qualify for the Olympics that you are missing the marquee event? Had the cut-off date had been a few months later, do you think you still had a chance of qualifying for the Olympics?

Not really. There aren’t too many tournaments happening after May.

Q. How much of a disappointment it is to miss your Olympics?

It is a big disappointment but I can’t control injuries. I must have missed six-seven tournaments since the German Open and I also have to remember that I had calf injury in October which put me of competitive action for two months. I missed about 11-12 tourneys and was out of action for six months.

Q. You skipped the 2016 SAF Games to get your calf injury adequate rest.

I took that call as I wanted to be fully fit and not carry any niggles. In fact, I was feeling really good in February – like fully fit and made my comeback in the Syed Open and in the Premier Badminton League.

Q. When do you think you can realistically expect to return to the competitive circuit?

I hope to be back on court by June. Olympic is out of question but at least a player I’m optimistic about staging a comeback.

Q. You played for Hyderabad Hotspots in the Premier Badminton League (PBL). How was your experience?

It was excellent – a league well conducted. All I hope is that it happens every year and it will be a boon for Indian badminton.

Interview with Oinam Bembem Devi: "Strong grassroot level programmes will help women's football"

Q. You played for Manipur for 20 years – you played 80 internationals and scored 32 goals – you were part of the Manipur team that won the senior nationals 17 times, and you were captain 9 times.
Oinam Bembem Devi
has been the ‘Pillar’ of the Indian senior women’s football team for two decades. Understandably, her decision to call time on her international career after the 2016 SAF Games will leave a big void in the Indian midfield position.

The 37-year-old vastly experienced midfielder played for 20 years for the country since making her international debut in 1995 as a 15-year-old. Bembem, who is employed with Manipur Police, talks about the state of women’s football in India and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. You decided to retire from international football after playing for the country for 20 years. Was this decision a planned one?

Look, I took a decision to quit international football in December and apprised AIFF about it. The 2016 SAF Games was coming up in Guwahati and Shillong – I was asked if I could play in the SAF Games and I agreed to play in the event, which turned out to be my international swansong.

Q. You also played for Manipur for one last time at the 21st Senior National Football Championship in Jabalpur, where your home state lost to Railways 3-4 on penalties.

Our girls really worked hard and we reached the final. I scored a goal in the final, where both teams were locked 3-3 after extra time. It was hard luck for us but the girls played their hearts out.

Q. What plans you have post retirement?

I made my senior international debut in 1995 as a 15-year-old boy and after playing for 20 years, I would like to contribute to the sport. I may take up coaching activities but as of now, I haven’t decided on anything.
I’m proud of my achievements. I feel happy to have contributed for my state and the country.

Q. Tells us a bit about you playing in a foreign league in 2014?

I played in the Maldives league in June 2014 for New Radiant. The league in Maldives is quite competitive – players from Germany, Sri Lanka and other nations came on loan to play in the league. Maldives has good infrastructure for women’s football and the league was conducted professionally.

Q. What is your biggest moment as a player?

It has to be winning the 2016 SAF Games gold medal. The crowd in Shillong was massive – I have never seen such huge crowds before. The way I was honoured for my farewell match was something I can never forget.

Q. How do you see the infrastructure for women’s football in India?

States like Manipur, Odisha, West Bengal and Maharastra have good grassroots level program for women footballers but I think women’s football must have proper infrastructure across all states as it will help to build a strong national team.

Q. Manipur players dominate the national side - at times the team is packed with players of the North Eastern state.

Manipur has craze for women’s football and that is why you see more girls from our state in the Indian team. At times, the team have eight to ten players from Manipur, if you include those state girls who go to Bihar or outside Manipur to take up jobs in Railways the number will of state players will be more.

Q. Finally how is important is a I-League type league for Indian women’s football?

I have heard that such kind of league will happen. If it happens, Indian women’s football will get really strong as we don’t have too many domestic tournaments during the year.

Interview with shuttler Sameer Verma: Staying injury-free really helped my game

Sameer Verma is a breath of fresh air for Indian badminton. The 21-year-old Madhya Pradesh lad, who is employed with Air India, has had a phenomenal run over the last one year or so, attaining a world ranking of 35 after hovering around 262 at the start of 2015. The soft-spoken shuttler joined the Gopichand Academy in 2010 and has strung together some big wins in recent months scalping the likes of Tien Minh Nguyen, Wang Zhengming and Hu Yun.

The 2015 Senior National Championship runners-up, who is now looking ahead to the upcoming 2016 edition in Chandigarh starting April 6, spoke about his meteoric rise and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. You were ranked 262 at the start of 2015 and you have now soared into the top-50 reaching a ranking of 35 in the first few months of 2016. How would you sum up your impressive run in last one year or so?

I always look to raise the performance bar and the fact that I steered clear of nagging injuries helped me to play consistently and move up the ranking ladder.

Q. What is that one factor that helped to perform so consistently – you have won three tournaments in last few months– back-to-back crowns in Bahrain, followed by the Tata Open title?

As I said earlier it really helped that I was able to stay injury-free during his period and that allowed me to train hard and perform at my best. Of course, I’m more focused than ever before – all these things really helped to bring about marked improvement in my game. As you know getting injured is never a good thing as you spent a lot of time in rehab and you can’t be at the peak of your powers on a comeback trail.

Q. How was it like beating your elder brother Sourabh in the final of the Tata Open in Mumbai?

I took up badminton after watching him play. Sourabh is not just my elder brother, but also my mentor, guide and friend – all rolled into one. We share a lot of things and share a great bond.

Q. Your elder brother was in the top-30 for a long time but seems to be struggling to string together consistent wins. Your thoughts.

Sourabh is a talented player – it is just that he had endured prolonged injuries last year like elbow and knee injuries, which really dented his game. He was not able to play regularly in the international circuit and hence his rankings also suffered. I’m sure he will bounce back sooner than later.

Q. How satisfying was it winning the back-to-back singles crowns in Bahrain last year?

I have fond memories of annexing the Bahrain International Badminton Challenge at Isa Town. I upset top seed Tien Minh Nguyen of Vietnam in the quarterfinals. It was a down-to-the-wire contest – I had lost the first game 17-21 but came back hard to level things winning the second game at 21-14 before winning the decider 21-9.

Q. Now that you are ranked 35 in the world, how do you intend to climb further up?

Look, moving up the ranking ladder takes a lot of effort but staying there is even tougher. I would look to stay consistent and strive to break into the top-10 by 2016-end.

Q. Every shuttler looks to improve – what will be your focus areas in terms of raising the performance bar?

I believe I need to be stronger mentally. Of course, there is no full stop to learning and I’m going to keep working in all aspects of my game.

Q. Which has been the most memorable singles win on the international circuit so far?

I had some great wins in recent months but my win over China’s Wang Zhengming in the second round of the Swiss Open. I won in straight games 21-19, 22-20 has to be my best career win so far. Of course, I also upset Hong Kong’s Hu Yun in the first round of the All England Championship, but my victory over Wang was special.

Q. Tell us a bit about your family?

I hail from Dhar township which is near Indore in Madhya Pradesh. My father, who happens to be my first coach, works in the Narmada Valley Development Authority, while my mother is a housewife.

Interview with N Sikki Reddy: "Want to break into top-30 in mixed doubles"

N Sikki Reddy shunned singles owing to a serious knee and on doctors’ advice she switched to doubles – the Hyderabad girl has surely done justice to her ‘switch’ winning the senior nationals in women doubles as well as finishing runners-up in mixed doubles.

The 22-year-old – a product of Gopichand Academy – also won the mixed doubles gold at the 2016 SAF Games besides finishing runners-up in women doubles. Sikki made her senior international debut in 2009 and was part of the Indian team that won the bronze medal in the women’s team event at the 2014 Incheon Asian Games. She talks about her game and much more in an exclusive interview.


Q. You won the 2016 Senior Nationals crown in women’s doubles alongside Pradnya Gadre and finished runners-up in mixed doubles alongside Pranav Jerry Chopra. Your thoughts

I expected to win both the titles but unfortunately lost my mixed doubles very closely 22-20, 22-20, it's was just not our day. But losing makes me work more harder and harder. I didn't have any pressure at all in the women doubles as Pradnya had just returned from injury – she was off the court for 6 months and had hardly practised before the nationals. So it was good that we won the nationals as this will give confidence to Pradnya.

Q. How would sum up your performance at the recent Singapore Open?

We played good at the Singapore open as we didn't have any pressure at all because me and Pranav Jerry Chopra just started playing mixed doubles and our progress was going quite well from the New Zealand Open and India Open. Hopefully, we would continue this consistency and upset some top pairs.

Q. You regularly play in women doubles and mixed doubles – how difficult to cope with both categories in terms of workload?

There is a lot of difference between women and mixed doubles. It's quite difficult to manage both but from past few months I was concentrating more on mixed doubles as my women doubles partner was injured. When you play the both the events the workload also increases, so you have to prepare for that mentally and physically, then only you can play both the events.

Q. I believe you left singles long back. Any reason for that?

I have injured my knee couple of times - ACL & Meniscus. So my doctor told me if you love the sport and if you wish to continue for a long time then you have to shift to doubles.

Q. What are the goals you have set for 2016?

I want to break into the top-30 by 2016-end in mixed doubles and win a couple of Grand Prix tournaments with the new partner (Pranav Jerry Chopra). My women doubles partner Pradnya is still not so fit, so once she is completely ok we will sit and plan.

Q. Which has been the most cherished win so far?

My mixed doubles win at the 2016 South Asian Games.

Q. What are the areas you would like to improve?

I have to do a lot of explosive training and strength. Physically I need to be more strong and on court I have to be consistent. I should not commit simple mistakes – that's the difference between me and top international players.

Q. Indian shuttlers now have a specialist doubles coach – how much are you benefitting?

It’s good that we got a doubles coach, we have got new ideas on the doubles how to play and what type of training we do. Our doubles coach is focusing more on the juniors and the players who has the chance to play in the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Q. You represented Chennai Smashers in the PBL – how was the overall PBL experience?

It's sad that I didn't get any chance to play in the PBL but I have learnt a lot from the players of our team during practise sessions, which gave me confidence. My team members have good friends thanks to the PBL. Hopefully, next time they will put up a new rule that every foreigner has to play doubles with one Indian then it will be fun!

Q. Can you elaborate on how you started taking up badminton – who was the coaches from the beginning till your entry in Gopichand Academy?

My father loves sports - he and my dad’s brother Manohar Reddy (Babai) had enrolled me at a summer camp in 2002 at the Lal Bahadur Indoor Stadium in Hyderabad. I have won the summer camp tournament, so the coaches over there told my parents that I have good talent and that they should bring me for practice regularly. Goverdhan Reddy was my  first coach and then in 2004, I moved to the Gopichand academy.

How the WFI was justified in picking Sandeep Tomar ahead of Rahul Aware

Of course, Sandeep has no guarantee that he will wrestle in Rio as the WFI is likely to conduct trials between Sandeep and Amit Kumar Dahiya to decide who books the flight to Rio.

The Indian wrestling contingent’s preparations for the Olympic Qualifiers in Mongolia was marred by the controversy surrounding wrestler Rahul Aware’s move not to board the flight to Georgia for a training stint because his name was missing from the 57-kg category for the Mongolia Olympic Qualifiers.

The manner in which Rahul refused to travel with the team to Georgia did ruffle the feathers of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) as they picked Sandeep Tomar ahead of him for the Mongolia Olympic Qualifiers.

Now, the WFI scored a ‘moral high point’ after Sandeep Tomar bagged a bronze medal in the 57-kg in the Mongolia Olympic Qualifiers, thus ensuring an Olympic berth for India in Rio.

The point is – Sandeep’s bronze-medal effort has ensured two things – first, the WFI was justified in picking him ahead of Aware and second, Aware’s Olympic aspirations are truly over after his recent unbecoming act.
Aware had no business to behave in the manner he did and should have exercised patience as one more Olympic qualifying tournament was anyway happening in May in Turkey.

The WFI, on his part, has shown that it was keen to try out all grapplers to pick his best choice for the Rio Olympics. The fact that the WFI wants to conduct trials between Sandeep and Amit Kumar Dahiya indicates that it does not nurse any grudge against anyone and only wants to pick the best medal prospect for the Rio Olympics.

The unsavoury controversy before the Mongolia Olympic Qualifiers has one big loser – Rahul Aware, who actually won a bronze medal like Sandeep in the earlier Olympic qualifiers but in that event, only two finalists secured Olympic spots.

Aware is a talented wrestler but he could have avoided an unwanted controversy and now there will be a question mark over his international career.

Women League: A big boost for Indian women’s football

Women’s football across the country does not quite enjoy the same patronage like men’s football. Over the years, there has been a clamour for improved infrastructure and holding of more tournaments.

Often, those calls went unheeded as the sport appeared like growing at a soporific pace. But not anymore! In a move that could change the landscape of Indian women’s football, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has come up with an ‘announcement’ that will sound like music to the ears of all and sundry, who closely follow the sport.

For a sport that is in a moribund state with few tournaments held during the year, despite the fact that India is ranked 58 in FIFA rankings as compared to the 162nd ranking of our men’s team. It may not be sarcastic to suggest that very few tournaments are held for women footballers at the national level.

In fact, the senior nationals is the only tournament that one can remember during the year, and that speaks something about the apathy Indian women’s football has endured over the years. Barring for states like Manipur, West Bengal, Odisha, Delhi, Bihar and Maharashtra, women’s football hasn’t been able to attract popularity.
Of course, there is no shortage of big names to pep up the sport. Aditi Chauhan, Tanvi Hans and Bembem Devi are well known and the troika can be used to lift women’s football in India. The much-talked about league will comprise six teams in its inaugural year and is likely to be expanded to eight teams next year.

One hopes that the inaugural women’s league gets its rightful eyeballs and not get buried under the weight of two leagues – ISL and I-League, happening in one calendar year. Indian women’s football can go up only if the league is conducted in an ‘organised’ way and not staged just like going through the motions.

The biggest gain of this women’s soccer league is that our women players – often starved of playing regular tournaments – will now have a platform to not just show their worth but also the league will throw open many hidden talents when six teams feature in the inaugural edition.
“It’s a great thing for Indian women’s football. Indian women football will grow from strength to strength in the years to come,” says former Indian captain and veteran Bembem Devi.

How the bitter Volleyball Federation of India feud is hurting India

Subtle politicking and one-upmanship in national sports federations are nothing new in India. Take the latest case of the Volleyball Federation of India (VFI). The body has been rocked by bitter feuding between its president Chaudhary Avadhesh Kumar and secretary Ramavtar Jakhar – bickering came to the fore when VFI president Chaudhary Avadhesh Kumar announced the holding of the Indian Volleyball League (IVL) for men, women and beach version in June-July and October and the beach version in January 2017.

The league’s announcement triggered a war of words between Chaudhary Avadhesh Kumar and Ramavtar Jakhar, with both accusing each other of hijacking the event for their own personal interests. The mudslinging went on even as the VFI president had announced a tie-up with Sportzlive, a Delhi-based sports marketing and branding company.

The seeds of bitterness were sown then and culminated in Ramavtar Jakhar calling a meeting in Chennai with the secretary claiming that he has the support of most state units, which looked a far cry as VFI’s Emergent Executive Committee meeting in Nagpur was attended by 14 state units with four or five units skipping both meetings.

The VFI president has termed the Chennai meeting as ‘illegal’ since neither the president nor the one-third members of the VFI units have requested to call for it. So what does mean is that VFI president Chaudhary Avadhesh Kumar is now on a strong footing to run the affairs of the Federation.

The Patiala House Court has recognised the Emergent Executive Committee, presided over by the President, as official. Ramavtar Jakhar did everything possible to scupper the pitch as he moved the Chennai High Court to grant a stay on the Nagpur Emergent Executive Committee meeting but he was in for a disappointment as the Chennai High Court has refused to give stay on the meeting.

Now the body spearheaded by VFI president Chaudhary Avadhesh Kumar, decided on its future course of action and agreed to hold its annual general meeting on April 15 at Hotel Inderlok in Dehradun.

The AGM could see Ramavtar Jakhar and his cronies being penalised for their unbecoming act. The antics of Ramavtar Jakhar ensured the need for a new secretary – the post filled up by K. Nandkumar of Karnataka, who has taken up the job on an interim basis.

It is learnt that some state units supporting Ramavtar Jakhar have been suspended and will be replaced by the new state office-bearers. “There was no need for Ramavtar Jakhar to resort to such behaviour. Chaudhary Avadhesh Kumar deserves to run the affairs as almost all state units are backing him. This incident has surely dented the reputation of the VFI,” said a VFI official.
One hopes that the ongoing storm in VFI blows over for the betterment of Indian volleyball.

How poor managers can cause serious reputational damage to a brand!

In a fiercely competitive marketplace, companies always have one goal in mind – how it can be ‘best heard’. Companies are increasingly ‘tak...