By Arun Lakshman
Chennai, July 16 (IANS) Padmashri V. Baskaran was the captain when India last won a gold medal in hockey at the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.
A highly skilled left-half in his playing days, Baskaran was active in Chennai, coaching youngsters and managing hockey tournaments before Covid struck. A decorated coach and an Arjuna Award winner, Baskaran, who was chief coach of the men’s team at Sydney Olympics and retired as a senior sports official with the Indian Railways, spoke to IANS on the Indian team’s prospects in the Tokyo Olympics.
IANS: The Indian hockey team is playing in Tokyo Olympics, as captain of the team that won at the Moscow Olympics and a trained coach, how good are the chances of our team striking big in Tokyo?
V Baskaran: We deserve to be on the podium as among the 11 other countries which are playing in the Olympics, we are well prepared even with Covid-19 pandemic situation. The players are highly motivated and stayed put at Bangalore for nine months before the Olympics and that was (due to) sheer determination and grit. Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Hockey India have extended all support and help for the well-being of players and their comfort during the training period.
IANS: What are your suggestions and advice to the Indian team?
VB: The team should go match by match and the first target must be reaching the quarter-finals. From the quarter-final onwards, things will be different as knockout begins from here. Our main strength is penalty corner conversion as we have three specialists in this area – Harmanpreet, Rupinderpal, and Amit Rohidas. PR Sreejesh is a highly talented goalkeeper with ample skills and experience as he is playing his third Olympics. Players should stick to the (match) plan. Team India is a mixture of youth and experience and hence I feel they can finish on the podium.
IANS: What according to you must change for India to be the world leader in hockey again?
VB: We need to structure our hockey events like the Club football tournaments in Europe. All the big clubs in Europe have Under 14, Under 16, and Under 18 tournaments, and from these tournaments, talented and skilled players, with a lot of capacity for hard work emerge at the senior level. We must be professionals in developing our sports. Amateurism and half-baked knowledge are dangerous for sports, including hockey.
IANS: Do you have any suggestions to create interest among children in hockey and other sports?
VB: A radical change is required at the school level to identify and nurture talented sportspersons. Sports must not be an extracurricular activity, instead, it must be made compulsory and each child must compulsorily play and participate in two sports in his school days. Even the parents have to be educated regarding the importance of sports for children. Sports must be given equal importance and prominence as education and if we persist on this, then like China, Japan, and Australia good players will emerge from schools, who can be nurtured and groomed into world-class players.
IANS: Please share your memories of the Olympics as a player and a coach?
VB: I enjoyed my playing career as well as being a hockey coach. Olympics has given me several fond memories. I met Ken Nortan, Mohammed Ali, Sebastian Coe, Roger Federer, John McEnroe, and Usain Bolt at the Olympics during my days as player and coach. I had also the opportunity to interact with our greats like Milkha Singh, Balbir Singh (Sr), Dhyan Chand, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Abhinav Bindra, Karnam Malleswari, P.T. Usha, and Shiny Wilson.
IANS: What was the greatest point in your sports career?
VB: Winning the Olympic hockey gold for India in Moscow was the biggest moment of my career. I expect Indian parents to be more supportive of sports and to inculcate a sporting culture in their children.