Despite having a much lower world ranking than volleyball, Indian basketball is making a lot more noise than the spikers, feels Gurinder Singh.
“There seems to be a lot of activity in basketball and a lot of steps are being taken to take the game to a new high,” said Gurinder, the captain of the Indian volleyball team and the country’s No. 1 universal, on the sidelines of the Federation Cup here.
The Indian men’s team is currently ranked 34th in the world while in basketball, where the Reliance, IMG and the NBA have joined hands to raise the profile of the sport and are working on the grassroots in a big way, India is ranked No. 61 in the world.
“Volleyball desperately needs similar attention and publicity to popularise the sport,” said the 25-year-old from Punjab. “If the media gives us a little more attention, if our matches are covered on television more, the game can come up nicely. Give us a chance, volleyball deserves a more colourful life.”
Despite being a sport which is loaded with many heart-stopping moments, and despite having beaten many higher-ranked countries at the majors, volleyball is still struggling for attention in the country. And it’s clear that the game is not packaged or marketed properly by its national body, the VFI.
“There is not much craze for volleyball in the country…the sport is popular only in Kerala and to some extent in Karnataka where there is the Karnataka League,” explained Gurinder.
“In Punjab, for example, we only have the local tournaments and low prize-money events. We don’t have any all-India tournaments like in Kerala.”
India finished eighth at the last Asian Games (2010, Guangzhou), jolting World No. 17 Japan — which went on to win the title — on the way. And after losing a close quarterfinal against Thailand in Guangzhou, Gurinder feels that a top-four finish in the Asian Games in Korea which comes up later this year is quite achievable.
“Apart from that victory over Japan, we also beat Australia (World No. 14) in the league phase and lost a close quarterfinal against China in the Asian Championship in Dubai in October,” said the 25-year-old Punjab Police Head Constable who was the best scorer in the 2012 Asia Cup in Vietnam.
“We finished seventh in the Asian Championship, but just before the event we lost two players — Kerala’s Ratheesh and our libero Kamlesh — to injuries. So, a top-four finish in the coming Asian Games is very much possible and more too, but we need more international exposure before the Asiad,” said Gurinder.
“We are now talking about brining in more juniors into the Indian team but since a lot of newcomers are expected to come in, there is all the more reason to give the side more international matches to settle down. But I feel the team should be a nice mix of youth and experience.”
He revealed that the Indian teams land in major tournaments with a huge handicap.
“All the other teams come with strong support staff for tournaments, but we don’t. ”
Gurinder took to volleyball in 2001, along with his brother Hardeep, who is a setter in the Punjab team here.
Within three years, he was in the Indian boys’ team at the Children’s Asia event and his best moment came at the 2009 under-21 Worlds in Pune, where India finished fourth.
“Now, my goal is a medal in the Asian Games. We are close to that.”