The Indian Volley League kicked off in Bangalore recently. Like the IPL, it allows young players to play alongside senior ones

Sudip Kulung Rai's victory late last month did not perhaps make much news outside his country. On May 29 — the anniversary of Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary's conquest of Mt. Everest — the Nepalese farmer romped to a nine-minute win over countryman Ram Kumar Rajbhandari in the annual Everest Marathon. Dipak Raj Rai finished a further minute behind. While the two Rais and Rajbhandari commenced, imaginably, to delirious celebrations, and Kathmandu observed International Everest Day, some 2,300 km to the south a sport in India embarked on a bold ascent of its own.

The Indian Volley League (IVL) got underway that Sunday at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium here, marking, it is hoped, the beginning of a new era in the game's existence in the country. Conceptualised on the lines of the IPL, the IVL represents, in the words of the Volleyball Federation of India (VFI), an attempt to “promote and popularise the game in India”. Six region-based franchises – Karnataka Bulls, Chennai Spikers, Hyderabad Chargers, Kerala Killers, Maratha Warriors, and Yanam Tigers – were created, with a panel of selectors picking players of varying ages and abilities from across the country and distributing them among the teams. The tournament began with the Bangalore leg before moving to Chennai, from where it is set to proceed to Yanam and Hyderabad.

Prize money totals at least Rs. 22.5 lakh, not including appearance fees of Rs. 12 lakh — serious money in volleyball terms. “Cricket is a Himalayan thing,” VFI Secretary General K. Murugan says. “We have made a beginning in following them. This is an effort.” The significance of the tournament can be gauged from the participation of the best of the country's players. “The response from them has been excellent not just because of the money,” says Murugan, “but because the sport needed something like this.”

Making the competition a part of the selection process for the National side has also invested it with greater importance. M. Ukkarapandian, captain of Hyderabad Chargers and a regular in the Indian team, feels the IVL has been a long time coming. “Even those who play in international competitions are here because there aren't many other things for them,” he says. The tournament represents an excellent opportunity for players to get noticed, he feels. “Look at the IPL. Before the first edition there were names nobody had even heard. But they even got opportunities to play for India afterwards.”

What the tournament also does is allow young players to play alongside senior ones, including current Indian internationals. Every team comprises a mix of the two, ensuring that good junior players actually get time on the court. While they will undoubtedly benefit, it also presents a challenge to elite players. “The elder ones are not that tolerant of mistakes,” says M.H. Kumara, head coach of Hyderabad Chargers. “They are used to having good players alongside them all the time. So the key for a team is for them to link together well.”

Competition at the Bangalore leg was fierce, although the underwhelming turnout did it little justice. A second season is believed to be on the anvil. By that time, it is hoped, even Nepal will be watching.