February 5, 2010

How to suppress your superstars - 101

If you have been keeping up with Indian basketball, then you would no doubt be familiar with the name Geethu Anna Jose. The 24-year-old captain of the Indian Women's National team is the most talented basketball player in the country and one of the best in all of Asia.

And if you have really been following recent basketball news in India, you would have heard about the recent atrocity committed by the Indian Olympic Association (IOC), who barred Geethu from playing in a professional league in Australia.

From TimesNow.TV:

In yet another incident that has shamed Indian sports, top basketball player Geethu Anna Jose has being barred from playing in a professional League in Australia. Geethu has been invited by Ringwood Hawks a professional basketball club based in Australia to represent their side in the league.

The club wants Geethu to join the team as early as the February 15 and stay back till the league ends in August.
However, the Indian Olympic Association has denied permission since Geethu is also the captain of the Indian women's Basketball team. According to the explanation given by the IOA, the Basketball Federation of India is supposed to organise a National camp during the same time.
But, Geethu believes that having participated in the Australian league before, another stint there will prepare her better for the Asian Games rather than attending a national camp.
She said, "I am so unhappy that my country is not allowing me to participate in the Australian League. I have written to the Basketball Federation but they have not given me any permission. I am still hoping that they will change their mind. I am sure that I will be able to play for the Australian League between February and August, come back to India, prepare for 3 months and play the Asian Games."

She is absolutely right! The hopes of all those involved in promoting basketball in India lie on building on the successes of talented, marketable individuals. Geethu is exactly that. She was the top scorer for the FIBA Women's Asian Basketball Championships in Chennai in November. She has already played three seasons with the lower league Ringwood Hawks (the only Indian to ever play pro in Australia), bagging a league MVP award in 2008. She was even selected to play for the Dandenong Rangers, which is a top-division WNBL team in Australia, but "personal reasons" kept her from ever suiting up for them.

Geethu's big break came during the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, where she turned heads in an otherwise-lowly Indian squad, putting up an impressive and eye-catching performance. The Indian Women finished sixth.

The young girl (did I mention she's just 24!) has serious skills: if it is marketable stars are what we claim we need, then we don't need to look any further than this talented Kerelan. Letting Geethu have success and acclaim abroad, and then welcoming her back with support by the media, the IOC, and the BFI support will help put a face to the sport in India, just like Saina Nehwal did for Badminton, Sania Mirza did for Tennis, and PT Usha did for Track & Field.

Obviously, playing at a higher, more competitive level will only benefit Geethu as a growing player. She still has potential to be better, and as she said in her statement above, she will have three months after the season in Australia to return home and prepare for the November Asian Games in China.

Earlier, in an interview for The Hindu, Geethu even went as far as saying, "I’ve started modelling too in a small way... Earlier, the game was glamorous, now we have to be glamorous to attract the crowd and sponsors."

It is a pity that India's most talented basketball player had to say these words, but when the system works in such a nonsensical way, can we really question her?

To the Olympic Associations around the world, if you're watching, then learn: this is how to suppress a superstar talent.

Also published on SportsKeeda.com

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