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From boxing to badminton, former sportspersons are honing medal prospects for India

BBC, 130 km west of New Delhi, was founded by boxer and legendary coach Jagdish Singh, who has trained many of India’s top pugilists, including Vijender Singh.

, ET Bureau|
Sep 22, 2018, 11.00 PM IST
​Jagdish Singh
Jagdish Singh, boxing coach and founder of Bhiwani Boxing Club.
Nitu and Sakshi’s story sounds like a sports film waiting to be made. Perhaps as a sequel to Dangal, the Aamir Khan blockbuster about the victory-against-all-odds tale of wrestler-sisters Geeta and Babita Phogat and their father Mahavir.

Nitu and Sakshi, who choose to go by their first names, are not wrestlers (or sisters), they are boxers getting trained at the Bhiwani Boxing Club (BBC). But their village, Dhanana, in Haryana’s Bhiwani tehsil, is only 60 km from the Phogats’ village, Balali. The 18-year-old best friends went to school together and are enrolled in the same college.

Sakshi’s father, a farmer, cycles over 20 km a day to drop her off at the Bhiwani Boxing Club (BBC) and picks her up again in the evening. Her mother, a homemaker, makes sure Sakshi gets all the nourishment she needs and does not do any chores at home. Nitu’s father, who holds a government job in Chandigarh, took leave without pay to help her train.

Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools
Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools
Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools
Started by: Bhaichung Bhutia, former Indian football captain, & Football by Carlos Queiroz, a Portuguese football academy
Campus: Started in 2010; has 27 training centers in 10 cities; first residential academy set up at Vedas International School near Gurugram in March
Prominent alumni: Kshitij Kumar Singh, Aryaman Ladha, Anuj Kumar, Vikram Gill
Funding & help: Bhaichung Bhutia, Football by Carlos Queiroz & fees from students
Trained so far: 10,000

BBC, 130 km west of New Delhi, was founded by boxer and legendary coach Jagdish Singh, who has trained many of India’s top pugilists, including Vijender Singh (2008 Beijing Olympics bronze-medal winner).

Singh’s academy is among those founded by sportspersons-turned-coaches that are helping popularise non-cricket sports, while also serving as feeders of much needed talent. But a paucity of trained, competent coaches and adequate funding are preventing them from achieving the scale they should.
Bhiwani Boxing Club
Bhiwani Boxing Club
Started by: Jagdish Singh, former national champion and Sports Authority of India boxing coach
Campus: Bhiwani (2003) Prominent alumni: Vijender Singh, who won a bronze at the Beijing Olympics, Akhil Kumar, Dinesh Kumar, Vikas Krishan Yadav, Kavita Chahal, Sakshi (R) and Nitu (gold medals winners at a meet in Hungary in 2018)
Funding & help: Sahara group helped to construct the main building
No of students currently: 100

A typical day for the 100 trainees at BBC is gruelling. They start at 5.30 am with a sprint, a workout at the gym or a crosscountry run. That is followed by a bag-punching session. Midmorning sessions are dedicated to boxing techniques.

More intensive bouts follow between 5 and 8 pm. After dinner, the trainees can watch videos of boxing matches, but it is lights out by 10 pm for the 40 who stay there in the frugal rooms above the training area.

Smartphones are off-limits for trainees. Nitu and Sakshi, who have been training at BBC since they were 12, have just returned from Budapest, Hungary, where both picked up gold medals in the AIBA (International Boxing Association) women’s Youth World Boxing Championship.

They won in the 48 kg and 57 kg categories, respectively. Sakshi says their journey has not been easy. “Friends and relatives in our village were shocked that our parents were sending young girls for boxing lessons.

For our training, we had to go running around the village at dawn and this raised eyebrows,” echoing the opposition Mahavir Phogat and his daughters encounter in Dangal.

Financial Crunch
Apart from coaching of international standards, lessons in English and sessions with psychiatrists are also important to be in sync at international bouts. Most of this is taken care of by government facilities such as the National Boxing Academy (NBA) in Rohtak. But that does not solve BBC’s financial problems.

Many of the trainees come from nearby villages or small towns in Haryana and other states. Providing them with nutritious meals as well as modern facilities to hone their skills is a challenge for Singh, who runs the club with his own resources and the fees from the students. Often boxing kits and grants from the state government come in late. Making ends meet can become a struggle.

No wonder Singh is a somewhat bitter man today. “Youngsters from all over India queued up outside our gate (after Vijender’s win) to sign up for our course, but neither the state government nor the Centre stepped in to support me to take BBC to the next level,” says Singh, 57.

But he has not let government apathy deter him and put in his own funds; he charges a nominal monthly fee of Rs 1,000 (Rs 500 for girls) from the trainees.

It is not just in Bhiwani where India’s future boxers are learning their jabs and hooks. Olympic bronze medallist Mary Kom and her husband Onler Karong have their own academy in Imphal.

There are 90 boxers in the hostel and another 16 day players, of whom 47 are girls, all in the age group of 12-22. Most of the trainees there are from remote areas of Northeastern states and from underprivileged families. Many have won state, national and international medals.

“I set up this academy to help the boxers in their training and not to let them face all the difficulties I had faced once during my early days,” says Kom.

The academy is built on three acres allotted by the Manipur government. After Kom’s success in the 2012 Olympics, companies such as Herbalife, Hero MotoCorp and Tata Trusts stepped in with support.

But resources are still a challenge, and problems such as a lack of qualified coaches and sports-science facilities stand in the way of creating a full-fledged training hub.

Besides BBC and Kom’s training school, academies such as those run by footballer Bhaichung Bhutia and badminton ace Pullela Gopichand are helping change the mindset of young athletes and their parents in India about a career in sports, says Vinit Karnik, business head, ESP Properties, the sports and entertainment arm of GroupM, a media-buying company. “As for the retired athletes, it’s giving them a new and fulfilling career option as coach.”

The Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy (PGBA), which was started by the All England Open Badminton Champion in 2001, is the best known sports academy in India today with top badminton stars Saina Nehwal, PV Sindhu and Srikanth Kidambi training there.

But back in 2005-06, things were not easy even for Gopichand, who only had his passion for the game and a few supporters to fall back on. Badminton did not have too many followers in India. Making people understand its importance and attracting talent was very challenging, he recollects. “Now there has been a change in the mindset about sports and CSR funds are available for different sports academies and initiatives.
Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy
Pullela Gopichand Badminton Academy
Started by: P Gopichand, Gun for Glory former All England Open Badminton Champion in 2008
Campus: Hyderabad (2008); Salem (2016) & Greater Noida (2017) Prominent alumni: PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Srikanth Kidambi, Parupalli Kashyap, HS Prannoy, Sai Praneeth and Sameer Verma
Funding & help: Serial entrepreneur Nimmagadda Prasad raised the initial money for the venture.
He put in $500,000 initially and later raised an additional $2 million. Gopichand himself mortgaged his family home to raise the additional amount
No of students currently: 150 at Hyderabad

Besides, Indian badminton players are doing phenomenally well overseas, which makes a big difference.” Serial entrepreneur Nimmagadda Prasad contributed half a million dollars initially for the academy and later raised an additional $2 million. With three academies in Hyderabad, Salem and Greater Noida, Gopichand is planning to set up a few more across the country. But getting good Indian coaches remains a problem.

Domestic leagues in football, badminton and kabaddi, along the lines of the Indian Premier League, have made these sports more popular in a country with a blinding devotion to cricket.
Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation
Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation
Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation
Started by: Olympics bronze medallist Mary Kom and her husband K Onler in 2006
Campus: Spread across 3.3 acres in Imphal west district
Prominent alumni: Tingmila Doungel, S Nengneihat, Boichong Hansing, S Debikarani, Sonia Bomjan, Venika Chanu, Amarjit Singh and L Shantikumar
Funding & help: Land allotted by the state and the ministry of youth affairs’ NSDF provided funding for the gymnasium and boxing hall; private partners include Herbalife, Hero MotoCorp Ltd and Tata Trust
No of students currently: 90 boxers, including 20 girls, as residential trainees and another 16 as daytime trainees in the age group of 12-22 years

The Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools (BBFS), founded by former India football captain in 2010, has trained over 10,000 students through its 41 centres in schools across 15 cities. The academy has already enrolled 50 students who live and train on campus.

“Bhaichung travels all across India to motivate and educate the kids and the coaches,” says Ankit Arora, chief operating officer, BBFS. He sees an opportunity for BBFS to build a complete ecosystem for player and coach development.

Like BBFS, the Mahesh Bhupathi Tennis Academies, too, were launched 11 years back by the Grand Slam champion.

Today there are 14 academies across India which are run at clubs, schools and colleges. “Bhupathi’s involvement remains at the strategic level and he is always looking out for talent and players who can be supported to reach international games,” says Tushar Wadhwa, manager-operations of the academy.
Gun for Glory
Gun for Glory

Gun for Glory
Started by:Olympics medal winner Gagan Narang in 2015
Campus: Shiv Chhatrapati Sports complex, Balewadi, Pune; has facilities in 19 other cities, too, with foreign coaches, sports injury management team, masseurs, video analysers and psychologists, among others
Prominent alumni: Anushka Patil, Elavenil Valarivan, Heena Sidhu & Anuraj Singh
Funding & help: Gagan Narang Sports Promotion Foundation in partnership with various states
Trained so far: 3,500
Elavenil Valarivan
Elavenil Valarivan
Elavenil Valarivan

Funds are easily the biggest challenge faced by such sports academies, even when they are set up by the top names in sports. “Sustained financial support is essential to build a pool of talented Indian athletes. Only then will there be results at the international arena,” says Viren Rasquinha, chief executive of Olympics Gold Quest, a not-for profit organisation that supports promising Indian athletes.

Academies like the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy and Olympic bronze medallist Gagan Narang’s shooting academy Gun for Glory, according to Rasquinha, are emerging as world-class centres of excellence producing results for India at global competitions.

Recently, Elavenil Valarivan, a product of Gun for Glory, won a silver medal in a women’s junior event at the International Shooting Sports Federation World Championship in South Korea. But for India to become a respectable sporting nation, training centres like BBC will need some serious backing from the government and the private sector.
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