New Delhi, July 6: Pro kabaddi league has changed the whole dimension of kabaddi in India said star sports expert and former first indoor international gold medal winning Air India team captain Raju Bhavsar.
It is an exciting period for Indian sports, when in a country obsessed with cricket, other sports as raw, home-grown and unfancied as Kabaddi is capturing the attention of the masses especially since the advent of Pro Kabaddi league.
Cricket being the most loved game in India, is more popular among the masses, but due to the induction of Pro Kabaddi League in 2014, there has been a steady rise in the growth of fans and viewership of Kabaddi as a sport with the trp of 316 millions views and impressions.
Discussing about pro kabaddi league, Bhavsar, who currently works for Air India, reveals more about his sporting journey and also his experience working as kabaddi expert with star sports in an exclusive free-wheeling conversation with Vishal Sharma.
Here are the excerpts:
Q. Tell us about your sporting journey as a kabaddi player and then as a coach?
Raju Bhavsar: I started playing kabaddi at the age of 14, inspired by my elder brothers Vivek & Hemant. Having reasonably good health and had played football earlier years, I started showing potential from junior level itself.
I started playing for "Jai Matrubhumi Vyayam Mandal" a well-known kabaddi club of Sangli (Maharashtra). While in school I captained our state team and won Gold medal in National School Games. I represented Shivaji University in all India inter-university Championships. In 1982 I was picked up by a professional team "Vanaz Engineers", Pune.
After playing for 4 years I was offered a job by Air India at Mumbai. At 19, I was selected in Maharashtra men's team for Sr. nationals. From 1981 onwards, I consecutively participated in Sr nationals for 13 years. I captained Maharashtra team twice. From 1982 to 1994, I participated in various international tournaments achieving Gold medal each time.
Lastly, I played for Air India in 2002 in Malaysia. After taking retirement from active sports I took charge of Air India kabaddi team as chief coach. Under my guidance top Indian players like Padma Shri Ajay Thakur, Arjun awardee Anup Kumar, Dinesh Kumar, Pankaj Shirsat, Manjeet Chillar, current India captain Deepak Hooda and poster boy of pro kabaddi Rahul Choudhary played for Air India achieving extraordinary success.
I was also appointed as coach of Sangli Dist. & Maharashtra men's and women's teams. Due to well planned strategy and it's precise execution I was rated as one of the premium coaches of India.
Q. At the time of Covid-19, how are you dealing with your daily task and professional life. Are you on duty as being the cabin supervisor of Air India?
RB: The fighting spirit instilled by being a kabaddi player came handy in taking responsibility in tough times of Covid pandemic. I've been operating evacuation as well as repatriation international flights of Air India, under Vande Bharat Mission.
But kabaddi being a highly combative body contact sport there are not much on-field activities. Still, I'm involved in online coaching sessions for various players. I had conducted sessions on the webinar for coaches training program organized by Sports Authority of India and the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs, Government of India.
Q. What sort of struggles did you face in your Sporting journey? How did you overcome the situations?
RB: As I come from a well-educated family background my parents had huge expectations from me in academics. But due to my keen interest in Kabaddi, I gave more importance to sports than studies. My parents were not very happy and I had to struggle to convince them. My achievements later in the sports gave them much satisfaction. Injury is an integral part of kabaddi and I too had to face some. But with the grit, I fought over it and continued to perform.
Q. Are you currently involved in any sports ventures as a Consultant/Advisor or Coach? Do you have a lot of such opportunities knocking on your door?
RB: After retiring as an active player I was appointed as a member of the international development committee of Asian Kabaddi Federation. As many as 5 franchisees of pro kabaddi offered me to be a coach of their teams. But since I was involved in Pro Kabaddi from the initial stages the league broadcaster offered me to be their kabaddi expert.
I was an expert for the premium sports channel "star sports" for the kabaddi world cup. I was also appointed as Technical Supervisor for season 6 of PKL.
To promote kabaddi at various levels I started "Raju Bhavsar Foundation" under which we conduct training sessions for players at various levels. Since there were inquiries from other countries too I started a web portal, an app and YouTube channel by the name of "Kabaddi Universe".
Govt of Maharashtra and Govt of India appointed me as member of the selection committee for the highest sports awards "Shiv Chhatrapati Puraskar" & "Arjuna Award" respectively. Currently, I'm a member of "Athletes Commission" of Amateur Kabaddi Federation of India.
Q. Do you have any favourite player from the current Indian kabaddi team, if so then why? Your opinion.
RB: Anup Kumar and Ajay Thakur are my favourites from recent past whereas Pawan Sehravat is the current best player of my choice. Pawan is an intelligent raider. He uses his skills at an appropriate time with elan. He is dependable and somewhere I relate him to my playing times.
Q. Being an Arjuna awardee, how do you look at the present scenario of Indian Men's kabaddi team?
RB: The current Indian Men's team has stiff challenges from Iran and Korea.
We have many versatile raiders like Pawan Sehravat, Navin Kumar, Pradeep Narwal, Siddharth Desai and dependable defenders like Nitesh Kumar, Sunil & Parvesh. This young team has a character to emerge champions amongst the stiff competition in 2022 Asian Games.
Q. How was the experience working as star sports expert for Pro kabaddi league? Now, what's your next big goal, will you be working in the same role or any other?
RB: Pro Kabaddi League has changed the whole dimension of kabaddi. Kabaddi was never ever telecasted on TV before the way star sports did. It is indeed an honour to be part of India's premium sports channel star sports.
As an expert, it was a great challenge to explain and train the commentators, anchors, technical crew and many others as kabaddi was new to them. It was difficult to match the high standards of star sports in production as we had hardly faced the camera professionally. Carrying yourself with elan and having command over language, speech, tone etc. was challenging.
I'm happy to say that with keen observation, apt analysis and to the point prediction made me popular in the fraternity and in the new fans of kabaddi. My policy is to work hard with full dedication and never expect for anything in particular. In PKL season 6 I was been appointed as technical Supervisor by the league administration which I handled with best of my abilities. In future, whatever role comes my way I'll give my 100% to justify it.
Vishal Sharma is a Delhi based sports journalist. An enthusiast who loves to travel and explore things around. He analyses sports and observes in-depth manner. He is a news and features writer on several online publications. His life is all around sports. Some of his hobbies are blogging, singing, researcher, travelling and meet geeks. He is a Wikipedian too.