When in Ahmedabad Geet Sethi has made it a habit of practicing English billiards for an hour from 12 noon at the Gujarat Sports Club. After a five-day visit to Dubai he returned on Monday and as usual was at the club on Tuesday with the marker keeping the crystal balls and cue for Sethi to go through a routine. After a couple of 30 plus collections, Sethi ran breaks of 129, 135 and 135. “He should have finished them at 150” said the marker indicating that particular denomination is important in the short format billiards. Sethi along with a few more Indians will take part in the World Billiards Championships to be played at Leeds, United Kingdom, from October 18. 

The cue sport maestro, founder of the Olympic Gold Quest and a personality with a particular view on all matters of sport said that “The fiasco of IOA being disaffiliated by the IOC is the most disheartening occurrence that has happened in Indian sport in the last 60 years and also the way it has been addressed to by the officials. I think the people of our country and the people in authority should take a far more serious view of this. I think this issue has been diluted. It’s the most absurd argument (IOA president Abhay Singh Chauthala’s personal attack on Abinav Bindra). You are talking of an Olympic Gold medal winner. His father maybe whoever, what about Abhinav Bindra…has he been chargesheeted. I cannot be victimized for what my father has done. It can go to your grandfather and great grandfather. Finally all of us will succumb to it. This issue IOA-IOC business needs to be settled soon. The next Olympic is two and half years away and the federation needs to start preparations. Selections and training camps have to start,’’ he said. 

Sethi is disappointed that billiards and snooker will not be a medal sport at next year’s Asian Games, but he is thrilled about the Indian Open snooker to happen in New Delhi. He talks about the multi-crore event and also about the controversy surrounding the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award.

On Indian Open Snooker: This is the first time an official ranking event is going to be held in India. It’s a breakthrough. England and the WPBSA have been trying to spread the game. It was localised in the UK; the sponsors and players were in UK. The process of wanting to go to other markets started with Canada which fizzled out. They treat this as a business. Then they went to Thailand and they have a nice hold there. Then they went to China and “oh my god” that exploded in terms of the number of tables, players and quality players. It started with Junhui Ding’s success.

The WPSBA has been trying to make inroads into India, but I must admit that for a sport other than cricket to be professionally marketed as a product in India is very hard. Other sports struggle to find sponsorship with the sentiment of building a brand.  I think Capt. Mohan has shown the courage to take an event like this. It’s over Rs. 6 crore with a prize fund of 300,000 pounds. Sponsorship is trickling in, not pouring. Capt. Mohan is using his contacts and trying hard. The most heartening thing about the Indian Open is the timing because both Pankaj (Advani) and Aditya (Mehta) have matured as top level snooker professionals.

We never had this kind of professional snooker players with capability, calibre and pedigree. There was Om Agrawal and Yasin Merchant before, but these guys are reaching the quarter-finals of a ranking event. Aditya has won a gold medal at a competition where amateurs and professionals played and that has greatly aided the BSFI to take a call for the Indian Open. We have Manan Chandra who is as good as these guys and he will have an opportunity to play at home in Delhi. I think the timing of the Indian open is right, as five years ago it would not have been a great idea.

More prize money events in India and academy: It was a good point made by Aditya, Pankaj and Yasin about the academy. We have the KSBA infrastructure at Bangalore. So the time is also right to get good coaches from India and overseas and set up a proper professionally managed academy. I think we have eight to ten players who are capable of playing the professional tournaments and two are already playing. If there is someone to mentor a player like Manan, I am sure he can come up. There are others waiting in the wings. We had tried the national league six or seven years ago, but that had fizzled out.  Last year a private promoter in Bangalore came with a package, but he could not find the sponsorship he required. I think the time is right for an Indian Cuesport League (ICL). The hockey and badminton leagues have happened. So why not an ICL? 

Method of selecting the wild cards for the Indian Open: It’s the most unbiased and objective way of determining the wild cards. Every format of selection will have its pros and cons, but I personally think a selection trial event was the most objective way of determining the six wild cards, knowing their form one month before the start of a big event.

Khel Ratna controversy: One of the guidelines for the chairman and members of the Arjuna awards committee is that if there is any kind of lobbying prior to the actual committee meeting that sportsperson should be disregarded and disqualified. We know this does not happen and phone calls are made prior to the committee meeting, but there is no evidence to prove phone calls were made. It is your word against mine. But in this case the lobbying happened after the awardee’s name was announced. This is open lobbying saying I deserve it.

I have gone to suggest one step further. The guidelines must state that a sportsperson lobbying for the award after it has been announced will not be considered for the award again. Automatically the lobbying will stop.  Sometimes the committee in its collective intelligence may take a stand that 19 is better than 20, but the sanctity of the award has to be preserved. In such a scenario the athlete himself is most biased; a feeling of being victimized can happen. I thought it was not right by he or she to aggressively lobby. It belittled the entire committee and the Khel Ratna which for me is above the Padma Shri.

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