Besides attracting an appreciative crowd, the recent Asia Pacific u-21 championship on the Marina gave the authorities a chance to spot young talent

When Australia’s Natalie Cook came to Chennai to participate in the Asian Women’s Beach Volleyball Tour in 1994, she was an impressionable and unheralded 19-year-old.

Two years later, she won a bronze in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and, at Sydney in 2000, she bagged the gold. She went on to compete in five successive Olympics — her journey culminated in the 2012 London Games.

The Asia Pacific u-21 championship held at the Marina in the city last week saw numerous young players exhibit their skills. One couldn’t help but feel that there could be a talent like Cook somewhere inside them.

Twenty-two pairs from eight countries took part in the tournament. Most important, it gave the authorities an opportunity to spot the best pairs and train them for International tournaments.

The championship was also a golden opportunity for India, as it doesn’t have exceptional senior men and women beach volleyball players at the moment. Though the Pradeep-John pair is ranked No.1 among the men, there isn’t much to talk about when it comes to women players.

A.J. Martin Sudhakar, chairman, Volleyball Federation of India’s Beach Volleyball Council, views the Asia Pacific event as a peek into the future of the sport. “This is the starting point,” he says. “There are not many good senior players. This tournament would have surely motivated the youngsters.”

The harsh fact is there is no proper structure for beach volleyball. Indian players don’t have much exposure, no proper camps, and no proper calendar.

Another major problem plaguing the sport is that almost all the players juggle volleyball and beach volleyball.

Beach volleyball, according to Sudhakar, isn’t 100 per cent popular. “There are no jobs, no money for the players. But once it is introduced in schools and universities, I am sure it will grow in popularity,” he assures.

Mohammad Ghouse, the Indian men’s team coach in the Asia Pacific tournament, says the biggest problem with the Indian players is inadequate height, while the women players are too inhibited to take to this sport. “There is no doubt that we should have more exposure trips. Foreign teams such as Australia and Kazakhstan play a maximum of 20 tournaments a year, whereas we barely play one or two,” he says.

S. Eshwari, who qualified for the World u-21 championship in Umag, Croatia to be held from June 20, along with R. Deepika, says this is her first year of beach volleyball. “I need to train more and practise with the men to improve my game,” she says.

The women’s final between Australia and Japan in the Asia Pacific tournament was top class, and the packed gallery enjoyed every move. If only Indians could play like that!