A star without stardom
K.C. VIJAYA KUMAR
His may be a face in the crowd. But International Ramesh's achievements on the kabaddi court will continue to inspire those who follow a sport that has a thriving rural base and appeal.
HE PLAYS a truly Indian sport and he is the best in his chosen field. However, when he returns home from international jaunts, there are no welcome banners at the airports. No autograph hunters. No jostling crowds. No flashbulbs going berserk. A star without stardom, so to say.
National kabaddi player and Arjuna awardee B.C. Ramesh is used to living in the shadows while cricketers revel in the limelight. "I just hope attention is paid to all sports and not just cricket. And it is only when there is media focus on games such as kabaddi that the sponsors are willing to back us. Until then we have to depend on Government grants," says Ramesh.
The Nation's obsession with cricket often lures megabucks from corporates keen to grab a slice of the publicity pie while other sports languish in the rear for lack of funds. But more than funds, it is a lack of sensitivity that hurts this sportsman. "Recently when I along with my brother, B.C. Suresh, returned home after being part of the Indian team which won the kabaddi gold at the Busan Asian Games, there was no one from the Government side to welcome us. The Kabaddi Association officials were there and from the State Government, well forget an official welcome, there was not even a congratulatory message," he recalls.
A sportsman's indignation is best reflected in Ramesh's words: "I should say that the Central Government, especially sports minister, Uma Bharti, has encouraged us. I am afraid that I can't say the same about the State Government. Karnataka and especially Bangalore claims to be a high-tech City but there is not much support for sportsmen like me. In other states, medal-winning athletes are given cash awards or plots of land. I just hope our State Government also does something to encourage us, because this (sport) is our life."
Ramesh's swipe towards the State Government's apathy is understandable, to an extent even valid. He is India's best raider for the last five years. "He is a good thinker and the co-ordination between his mind and body is excellent," says Dhanam Reddy, a senior kabaddi coach.
Ramesh has been a member of the gold medal winning National kabaddi team in the Asian Games in Bangkok and now recently in Busan. And he is not a mere cog in the support cast, he is indeed the livewire that powers Indian kabaddi.
Accolades, though limited for a sport like kabaddi, have been a Ramesh's constant companion in his blazing trail. But it was not all bed of roses. Ramesh opted for kabaddi when he was a kid because that was the only sport he could afford. "In kabaddi all you need is some space to play. You don't even need shoes and when I was growing up, my family could not afford cricket bats or other sports goods. Kabaddi was the safe and easy option. I love the game. It requires stamina, power and speed, and it helps maintain our health. I would advise all youngsters to play this sport because it is easy to play and does not need any specific sporting kit," he says.
Ramesh's nervous steps in a non-descript ground in V.V. Puram more than a decade ago has now evolved into a confident gait. And when he indulges in his trademark jumps that elude rival defenders, success does a tap dance. Ramesh's early strides were made in association with the Bharatiya Yuvakara Sangha. He then joined the HMT team in 1991, the year in which he made his debut for Karnataka in the Federation Cup in Salem. He then joined the State Bank of Mysore in 1994 and soon found his career on a distinct upswing.
He donned the Bank Sports Board (BSB) colours with aplomb and jump-started his tenure with the Indian team as part of the Gold winning squad in the SAF Games at Chennai in 1995. He never looked back after that and now when he says: "I am happy with the way my career has progressed," his words echo with pride.
The odd fault line in his career was when he was dropped from the National team. "Politics" is the word he uses to explain the reason behind his brief omission from the team. He came back strongly with the added lustre of being the National team's captain in the tournaments at Iran and Malaysia. India won both the tournaments. However, musical chairs were played at the recent Asian Games as Ramesh, after being initially named captain, was asked to play second fiddle to Ram Mehar Singh.
Ramesh shrugs off the incident and is keen to share the warmth of India retaining the kabaddi gold. "This was perhaps the best kabaddi team India has ever had. All of us played our parts well and I should thank Ms. Uma Bharti who enquired about our needs before the Asian Games and when we said that we need playing mats, she initiated measures so that every State had at least one playing mat. We trained hard on the mats and that proved helpful because we usually play on mud courts but with the recent move to play the sport on synthetic mats in the Asian Games, it was important that we had adequate practice," Ramesh says.
An Assistant Manager with the State Bank of Mysore (SBM), Ramesh is sure about his future plans. "I intend to play for another five years," says this 31-year old international player. In sports, 30 plus athletes are considered fit for pension plans but Ramesh hopes to stay afloat banking on his fitness. "I train with athletes so that I maintain my current fitness levels," he says. And it also helps that SBM has been a benevolent employer. "My bank officials have always supported me and I owe a lot to them," is his compliment to the SBM.
A coaching stint is also on the anvil as Ramesh gears up for a senior statesman's role in kabaddi by nurturing two clubs in the City. "I have two clubs with around 30 players and any youngster who loves the game and wants to improve his ability can always contact me. I have also planned an academy in Channapatna. Hopefully, the Government will help me with the land deed. But it will take some time. Right now, I want to play for the country and I should be there for the next Asian Games too," says the determined man.
Ramesh, however, is wary of the progress made by Bangladesh and Pakistan. "These two teams are fast improving and, in fact, the Asian Kabaddi Federation officials are saying that India may not win the gold at the next Asian Games. But we do have a strong nucleus of senior players and some promising youngsters. Indeed the conditions have improved for the younger players who have various age-group International events to sharpen their skills. That wasn't the case when I was growing up," he says.
The man whose cupboard is stuffed with medals and mementoes, including the State Government's Ekalavya and Kempe Gowda Awards and the Karnataka Olympic Association's recent Best Kabaddi Player Award, is itching to scale fresh horizons while scraping mud on the kabaddi courts. Limelight may prove elusive and Ramesh may be lost in a crowd, but his achievements will continue to inspire those who follow a sport, which has a thriving rural base.
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