January 30, 2016

Does India have basketball teams for the South Asian Games next week or not?

The 2016 South Asian Games (SAG) will tip off in Guwahati and Shillong next week. The multi-sport festival will feature eight countries - the hosts India and all our South Asian neighbours - competing in 23 different sports. The Nabin Ch. Bordoloi AC Indoor Stadium, Sarusajai in Guwahati, host to the tournament's basketball tournament, is ready. Tikhor the baby Rhino, the SAG's official mascot, is ready. Hell, even our eternal rivals in all things Pakistan - a team with barely any international basketball exposure - is ready to 'conquer' us.

So it's time for India's basketball teams - the hosts and reigning silver medalists of SAG Basketball - to be fired up for this massive tournament, right?

Not exactly.

As many of you who closely follow Indian basketball may already know, there is a major rift between two parties competing for the helm of the Basketball Federation of India (BFI). The side supported by FIBA and led by President K. Govindraj - Team Govindraj - has been responsible for hosting India's recent national championships and sending teams abroad for international tournaments. But the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) hasn't recognized Team Govindraj after appeals by the competing group led by President Poonam Mahajan: Team Mahajan. All this confusion has meant that several Indian players have been forced to choose their loyalties between one side or the other and robbed Indian basketball of its necessary cohesion.

And this is where the past drama meets the present challenge. The IOA, in consultation with the Government of India, are behind the organizing and executive committee for the planning and management of the 2016 South Asian Games. But because of the broken relationship between the IOA and the BFI, there is still confusion about the trials and formation of the Indian basketball teams (at the time of writing) in the Men's or Women's divisions for the SAG. The Games flag off in Guwahati on February 5 and the basketball tournament will be held from February 11-16th. While other teams prepare, India continues its habit of cutting it too close.

The IOA announced that they will be holding trials for the Indian teams on Saturday, January 30th, at the Indira Gandhi Stadium in New Delhi. But the BFI's Team Govindraj have 'shot off a warning' at the IOA for interfering with the basketball selection trials, which are being held by the IOA outside of their legal jurisdiction.

Yesterday, SportStar published a damning article about how some of India's top players like Kerala's Jeena PS and Varanasi's Vishesh Bhriguvanshi continued to be confused about selection trials for the upcoming tournament just a week before it's set to begin.

“We had the tickets but we were in two minds for a few hours, whether to go or not,” said [Jeena PS], the 22-year-old power forward from Thiruvananthapuram. “Anyway, we will decide whether or not to take part in the trials once we reach New Delhi.”
Hundreds of miles away, Indian men’s captain Vishesh Bhiruguvanshi has similar worries about the ‘trials’.
“I’m on the train to Varanasi, my home. Tomorrow, we will get to know whether we have to go for the trials or not,” said the Indian skipper over phone.
The South Asian Games begin in Guwahati and Shillong on February 5 but while teams such as Pakistan and Maldives are getting ready for the basketball event in Guwahati, shockingly, India has not even selected their men’s and women’s squads yet!
With faction fighting virtually breaking up the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), relations between the hoop game’s national body and the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) have soured to dismal levels.

“The IOA is not eligible to conduct any basketball event as per the Karnataka High Court Stay Order dated October 14, 2015. Any unit which sends its players will be sending them at their own risk,” K. Govindaraj, the President of the BFI, has said in a letter sent to the association’s affiliated units.

“If you go by logic and rules, the federation has to conduct the event. The IOA does not have any right to interfere in the federation’s activities. The IOA comes under the IOC Charter, if they follow the IOC Charter, when an international federation recognises any national federation, it is the duty of the IOA to recognise and follow the procedures,” he said.
“But now, I don’t know… the Government and the IOA are handling it. The (world body) FIBA will interfere at the appropriate time.”
“We have already selected our teams, and if it (basketball at the Games) happens, we will field our players. If it doesn’t happen, it is up to the Government. We just concluded our National Championship (ended in Mysuru on Jan. 16), the team was finalised yesterday and the camp will start in Mangalore on Monday,” he said.

Players from units like ONGC and Railways are being coerced by their employers to attend the trials in Delhi, but they also have conflicting information from the BFI. Govindraj claimed to SportStar that Team India trials have already been concluded and the team chosen, but there has been no word released (yet) of which players will actually be representing India at the SAG next week.

So what is actually happening here? Will Team India be the one that met at camp by the BFI in Mangalore? Or will it be the team chosen after the trials in New Delhi?

Does India have basketball teams for the South Asian Games next week or not? Whenever there are two answers to a question like this, it is likely that there are probably no answers at all.

Six years ago, India were disappointed when they lost in the finals of the 2010 SAG in Dhaka to Afghanistan and had to settle for the silver medals. The chance for redemption for India has come a little late (the 2016 SAG were postponed after IOA suspension last year!), but now, it's finally here. But it seems like, rather than fielding a team to defeat Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and others, we are busier finding ways to defeat each other. Time is running out: hopefully the likes of Jeena, Bhriguvanshi, and the rest find clarity in their plans. If the organizers and bureaucrats can't make India proud, at least allow our athletes to do so. Or the only Indian playing basketball in Guwahati will be Tikhor the rhino.

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