Rugby to get a big boost in India
Major talents to feature in Khelo India University Games
New Delhi: While India has seen the rise of various sports such as kabaddi, badminton, wrestling and shooting in India, another sport has been quietly rising across the nation. Ever since the Get Into Rugby initiative has begun in India, the sport has been picked up by children from all walks of life. In terms of participation numbers for the sport, India ended 2019 at the top of the global list with Japan in second place. The Get Into Rugby programme is part of the World Rugby plan to increase participation in the sport across the world.
The sport will get an even bigger boost when rugby will be played at the inaugural Khelo India University Games in Bhubaneshwar. The tournament will be held from 22 February to 1 March 2020. Former India rugby player and current actor Rahul Bose believes that the Khelo India University Games will be a great national podium for rugby players to showcase their skills.
"It's yet another step towards recognizing that rugby is one of the largest grass-roots sports in the country. Without anybody knowing, it's almost India's best-kept secret. The game is played in approximately 230 districts in the country out of 710, which is close to one-third of the country. The only reason people don't know about it because the sport is not on television. To be in the University Games is massive. It will legitimize the efforts of all the children, it will give them a great national podium to showcase their skills," said an ecstatic Bose.
Through the Get Into Rugby programme, Rugby India has been able to reach out to many talented players in rural areas across the country. Bose, who works with Rugby India to help the sport grow in the country, said the federation has made efforts to go into the smaller regions of the country and teach children the sport.
"There has been a great shift in the emphasis that Rugby India has put on seeding grassroots rugby. We have spent a lot of time training PT teachers, we go into schools, districts, we offer our equipment for free, we mark the grounds, we show them the dimensions, we play with them, our coaches coach the children directly and we set up rugby camps in various rural areas across the country," said Bose.
The current Indian rugby team vice-captain Mohit Khatri said that he has known players, who have left rugby because they didn't have enough support. But with the sport being included in the Khelo India University Games, Khatri feels that youngsters will be inspired to continue playing the sport.
"It will be a good platform for youngsters. The game is in the School Games as well. It's a good opportunity for all upcoming athletes. It's good that the government has supported the sport. There are a lot of players who start the sport and then when they don't get support, they leave the sport. So it's good that the rugby players in India are being supported," said the 21-year-old.
The General Manager of Rugby India Nasser Hussain expressed the only obstacle the federation faces is that rugby is not being telecasted on television. However, Rugby India is trying to address the issue.
"We have identified that the obstacle we face is that there is very little visibility of the sport. That's something we have tried to address at the union level. What we have done in the last year and a half, we have streamed all our national tournaments on our Facebook and YouTube channels. That has given it some visibility, but we are trying to get the sport on television," said Hussain.