February 17, 2010

Farceketball - Indian Basketball's Rotten Core

This feature is following up the story I had written earlier, titled Guns, Fraud, and Basketball, and it was published in the third edition of the Sports Keeda e-magazine.

When basketball players step on to the court, something in their nature changes. They are no longer the desk clerk, the IT technician, the law-student, the father of two, the Hindu the Muslim, the Marxist, or the Shiv-Sainik. They become basketball players.

Before taking their first step on the revered basketball court, it is common practice for the player to bend down and touch the ground, taking its blessings, just like he would do before entering a temple. That is the reverence a basketball court has – so much so that it is worshipped and respected in the same manner as a God would. It blurs every other thing in the player’s life, and basketball becomes the only focus in his or her mind.

But what is the point of reverence when it is nothing but a farce? When games are played not to win but to pave way for the ‘natural order’ of sport in the country; when results are determined not by the team with the more talent but the team with the stronger voice?

Earlier this month, the All India Inter University Basketball tournament concluded in my hometown of Varanasi. Hosted by the Banaras Hindu University (BHU), this tournament featured the best four teams from each of the four zones in the country. The press release of this tournament would probably tell you that the best 16 university teams in the country took part in an exciting competition, leading up to the final which featured two of the local teams, the hosts BHU and the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth (MGKV). BHU beat MGKV 63-56 in a close-fought final game to lift the trophy in front of their home fans, and thus became the best university basketball team in the country, providing a memorable finale to the career of retiring BHU coach KN Rai.

But the result is far from the entire truth. Players from visiting Delhi and Rajasthan universities claimed that they had to forfeit or lose their games over threats at gunpoint. In the final, the MGKV played without their starting five, including star player Vikram ‘Dicky’ Parmar, and their rallying reserves threw away a one-point lead in the final minutes to pave way for a BHU victory.

The most shocking fact about this farce isn’t that the above mentioned incidents took place; it is that everyone involved with the tournament and the teams taking part in the finals silently let it happen. The crowd, although uncomfortable with the happenings on court, simply sat back and watched. The media made a soft whimper about it on the following days, but the organizing associations turned a blind eye. Even the coaches and players of the MGKV could only respond with a sigh, agreeing that “these things just happen.”

They just happen. When I spoke to former UP player and Varanasi-based basketball coach Jitendar Kumar about this incident, his only response was that these things are “natural” in such tournaments – everyone from the referees, gun-toting bullies, and even opposing coaches and players get involved in making sure that the home squads take the trophy. The teams agree to the result: that is what is “supposed to happen”, because it always does.

So it is compulsory for the best four teams from each zone to participate, even though participation is truly absurd when the winners have already been decided. Even former BHU player and Indian national Women’s team star Divya Singh wrote, “I know these University championships are like this… whoever hosts the championship does whatever they want... referees are corrupt in these championships.”

But the players who participate in these championships are the same players who will become our countries best basketball players in the future – if the biggest university-level championship is treated under such conditions, we are doing nothing but corrupting the very core of what will shape our national basketball in the future. What is the point of being true to the game that won’t be true to you? If Indian authorities are really serious about promoting basketball as a major sport in India, it should first clean out such practices in all levels.

When basketball players step on the court, something in their nature changes, to beautifully make them one with the game they respect and with nothing else besides it. Let’s not convince our players to corrupt the one thing they love the most: basketball.

This story was first published in the February edition of the Sports Keeda e-magazine. Click here to download the magazine.

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