Federation Cup had been one of the most prestigious events in the calendar of the Volleyball Federation of India (VFI) from 1978 to 2003.
But after the silver jubilee edition held at Thriprayar in Thrissur, the VFI was all but forced to drop the Federation Cup from its calendar what with the event having failed to generate the emergence of clubs across the country.
True the Federation Cup was mooted as a vehicle to promote competition among the top clubs and the VFI itself was forced to change the format of the event twice after it was initially instituted as an inter-State affair.
Against this background, it would seem to be ironic that the event, which is all set to be launched again after a decade at the Rajiv Gandhi indoor stadium at Pramadom near here from Sunday, will be competed by the State teams rather than club outfits.
Yet, that alone is certain not to take the sheen out of the tournament as what it seeks is to provide with yet another platform for the Indian players to perform and excel in a competition of truly national stature other than the annual National championships.
Thus eight teams, based on the rankings at the 61st senior National championships held in Jaipur in January, will figure in the competitions of the men’s section, while in the women’s section it will be limited to just four.
As host, Kerala would be hoping to establish its credentials in a big way at this eight-day tournament. Especially in the men’s section, after having won the National title back-to-back through the last two years. The home side is drawn in Pool A for the preliminary league and would be expecting to emerge unscathed as it takes on Haryana, Services and Rajasthan which have been grouped along with it.
The Kerala team will be spearheaded by the veterans such as Tom Joseph, Vibin M. George, Y. Manu, K.S. Ratheesh and T.S. Ajesh.
In Pool B it is Tamil Nadu which should start as the firm favourite though Uttarakhand should fancy its chances in this group. The other two sides which make up this group are Punjab and Karnataka.
Tamil Nadu should also be looking forward to avenge its defeat at the hands of Kerala in the final at Jaipur. It came with a strong line-up comprising stars such as G. Pradeep, G.R. Vaishanav, Naveen Raja Jacob, S. Kangaraj and M. Ukkira Pandian.
The top two teams from each pool will progress to the round of last four on March 2.
In the women’s section too, Kerala should fancy its chances as National champion Railways will be missing the event. The other three teams which make up the round-robin league are Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh.
Absence of Railways
The Tournament Director and former international G.E. Sreedharn admitted that the absence of Railways would be a big blow but said that it could not be helped as the Railway Sports Board had taken a decision not to field teams in the Federation Cup of any sport.
On Saturday, on the eve of the tournament, the Rajiv Gandhi indoor stadium might have sported a deserted look despite bedecked with festoons, but the organisers are hopeful that the 5000-seater stadium would be jam-packed as the action gets underway on Sunday. The tickets sales have picked up for the last couple of days.
Of course, should the teams excel as expected, it will help the game grow in the country manyfold.