It's the start of a new chapter for K. Murugan as CEO of the Volleyball Federation of India. The septuagenarian talks of his hopes and dreams for the game
The Volleyball Federation of India’s general body meeting had almost drawn to a close. The new president Avadesh Kumar Choudhary extolled the services of his predecessors, the late Sivanthi Adityan, who was for long president of the federation, and K. Murugan, secretary general. Others followed in the same vein till one delegate sprang up from his seat and urged that Murugan be made chief executive officer. Support for the appeal was unanimous. Almost instantly, Murugan’s plan for a quiet retirement was wiped out.
Murugan has been associated with volleyball for more than three decades, as player, referee, coach, and administrator. It is never easy to end a long innings like that. But once he turned 70, he became ineligible to contest as per the Government guidelines. So it was only natural that he thought of pursuing his other interests. “Honestly, I had never considered a situation like this (becoming the CEO). My idea was to devote time to my business and other matters in my hometown, near Tirunelveli,” he says. But that will have to wait for a while.
Volleyball needs an expert like Murugan who can take on new challenges, the immediate one being blending ideas that have worked with the new administration’s vision for the sport.
Challenges are not new to Murugan. Along with Adityan, he charted Indian volleyball’s fascinating journey. If Adityan was the visionary, ensuring financial support, Murugan was the man who found ways to execute the plans. “We were able to work closely because our aim was common: to improve volleyball and the lot of volleyballers,” he says.
Bagging the fourth place in the 1982 Asiad in New Delhi and the bronze medal in the 1986 Asiad in Seoul are, according to Murugan, testimony to the growth of Indian volleyball. The task was to sustain it. “How many know that India is placed 30th in the world among 200-odd countries which play volleyball and sixth in Asia out of 40 countries,” he asks.
Murugan recalls how the sport never had to depend entirely on government grants. “Adityan ensured that. He was keen that the Indian team had access to the best of coaching and foreign exposure. When, for the Busan Games in 2002, the team did not qualify for government help because India had finished lower than the sixth place in the previous Games, Adityan took it upon himself to meet the entire cost of the team’s travel and stay in the Korean city. The team responded by performing well,” recalls Murugan. The story was similar at the junior level. The memorable moments came in Thailand in 2003, when the Indian youth finished second in the world championship after winning the Asian title earlier, while the junior squad came fourth in the world championship in Pune in 2009.
Good work gets noticed and, for Murugan, recognition came when the IOA backed him for the Chef-de-mission’s job in the 2008 Beijing Games. “Though I had been to several Olympic Games with Adityan, this was special. I felt even more privileged when India performed so well, bagging the country’s first gold (Abhinav Bindra), and I was a proud witness to this historic moment. Two more medals followed and I could not have asked for anything more,” he says with unmistakable pride.
For one who hardly has anything to regret in his long career, there remains but one big dream: to see India qualify for the Olympics in volleyball. “We are in the qualifying phase in the world championship and I hope the big day will come,” he says.