52 schools from four countries participate in 250 races

It seemed like the most unlikely teams paired opposite each other to a friendly game of football on a dry patch of land at The Rowing Centre in Koovathur, off East Coast Road.

But after cab driver N. Sarvanan, the referee, blew the whistle signalling the kick-off, the game touched exciting levels.

The boys from Sree Karpagavalli Vidyalaya Middle School, some uneasily kicking the football with their running shoes on, played tough against the tall, big boys from Pakistan and Sri Lanka. With Sasi Kumar's, a student of class VII, second winning goal, the game ended but in good spirit. “We were instructed to play fair, but these boys were amazing,” said Humza Daudpota and his friends from Karachi.

The friendly match and a first-hand experience of a rowing competition for 20 boys, who are supported by the Akshaya Trust, was the highlight of day two at the UNIFI Capital ASRA Regatta 2010 here on Thursday.

The four-day international school-level regatta is one of the largest gatherings of students, with 52 schools from four countries participating in 250 races and vying for 12 gold medals. The first such school-level regatta was held in Colombo last year, where it attracted 22 schools.

Beyond the sporting event, the sprawling venue is where a lot of cultural exchange happens. The girls rowing team from Karachi are in awe of the natural surrounding, but say the humid weather has dehydrated them.

The Sri Lankan team says it is confident of bagging more medals, especially because rowing is a co-curricular activity most schools have in their curriculum.

The Indian contingent is a mix of participants from Maharashtra, Assam, Kerala and West Bengal.

A four-member team from Government Vocational Higher Secondary School, Allepey, is probably the only government school participating, said the organisers. Anjali Raj and Ashwini of the school, who have entered the semi-finals, say growing up on the backwaters of Kerala gave them an advantage. Something that the Guwahati team miss.

“They practise on still water and with the tides here changing direction it is quite a challenge,” said parents of the participants from Guwahati.

However, for the Association of School Rowing in Asia (ASRA) this annual event is a platform to popularise the sport. “For an Olympic point of view, rowing is an important sport — there are 14 medals to be won. But, it gets little limelight,” said Sarath Reddy, Managing Director, UNIFI Capital.

According to Farid Husain, Vice-President, ASRA, from a participant point of view rowing is not an expensive game, but with the academic pressure very few children are encouraged. “There are 18 schools participating from Chennai. We are trying to bring in more schools so that they can adopt it in their curriculum. This would see more supply, filtration and quality,” said Mr. Husain.


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