The crowd that gathered to watch the final of the recent National Club championship was evidence that the game has a following in Tamil Nadu. But to expand its fan base, better marketing and infrastructure are a crying need

As Indian Overseas Bank captain Ukkrapandian entered the Trustpuram Corporation Grounds in Kodambakkam for the final against ONGC (Dehradun) in the National Club volleyball championship on Sunday, fans waiting outside the venue urged him, saying, “We have come to see you play, please let us in.” A helpless Ukkrapandian replied, “If there is space in the gallery, they will let you in.”

J. Nadarajan, an organiser of the championship, had to issue entry cards to ensure the makeshift gallery (it can accommodate around 3,500) was not put to undue strain. “I expected a big crowd, but didn’t think people would throng the venue like this. On the final day, the turnout was unexpected. We had nearly 1000 people waiting outside,” he said.

Meena Mahalingam, chief coach of the Southern Railway women’s side, was surprised at the number of spectators. “It was maddening. This was never expected. I have seen such a crowd only in Kerala,” she said.

Overwhelming success

Organised by the Chennai Spikers Volleyball Club — comprising mostly former India players — the National Club championship was an overwhelming success.

In Chennai, it being an outdoor venue, the turnout was unprecedented. “When we conducted All-India tournaments at the Sivanthi Volleyball Club (Egmore, outdoor), the Nehru Indoor Stadium and Santhome (indoor), there wasn’t such a large crowd,” said IOB’s chief coach P. Sundaram.

Commenting on the quality of the competition, J. Nadarajan, a former International, felt that except for teams such as IOB (Chennai), BPCL (Kochi) and ONGC (Dehradun), the other teams seemed pedestrian. “They too should try to be like these three teams. They should strive towards professionalism. Only then will the quality improve,” he said.

Mahalingam felt that instead of four teams in the women’s category, the organisers should have included three or four more teams. “The competition would have been tougher and we would have benefited from more match practice,” she said.

Indoors vs outdoors

The debate about playing volleyball in indoor or outdoor venues continues to rage. There is no doubt that volleyball is an indoor sport. But how to draw a crowd to indoor venues is the big question. There are only a few indoor stadiums in Chennai, and not many elsewhere in Tamil Nadu. To conduct a tournament indoors, you have to spend more on marketing to attract a crowd. Whereas when the game is played outdoors, more people would gather to watch (entry free).

Ukkrapandian was of the view that if more clubs such as Chennai Spikes Club came forward to conduct major events, volleyball would have a bright future.

To watch Selvaprabhu (IOB) jump for a spike, Ankit Choudhary (Western Railway) smash, those Tom Joseph (BPCL) touches at the net, Vaishnav (IOB) and Subba Rao’s (ONGC) blocking skill, and Ukkrapandian’s setting are a delight. All this only goes to prove the charm of the sport.

The Volleyball Federation of India has to market the sport better and take it to the masses. Wide publicity coupled with better facilities (infrastructure and finance) for the players, will pave the way for Indian volleyball to reach greater heights.