BENGALURU: Sports fans in India have always been fascinated by rugby and even lauded movies like Invictus and Forever Strong. However, since the Indian team’s humiliating loss (0-85) to Singapore in 1998, the growth of the sport in the country has been pretty slow.
Bengaluru boy Roshan Lobo began his tryst with rugby in 2008, when India recorded its biggest victory against Pakistan (92-0).
He used to work in a photocopy shop, where he was introduced to the game through pamphlets. Within months, he was invited to the national rugby camp for the Commonwealth Games.
“I learnt about rugby through TV and Internet. I started playing for fun and I enjoyed making friends on the ground. I also got to travel. I never thought I would be playing professionally. But things got serious when I was selected for the Indian team,” Lobo says.
However, ahead of the Commonwealth games, he suffered a broken arm and couldn’t compete. The zesty sportsman kept at it and was soon introduced to American football (a game similar to rugby but with safety gear and a different scoring system) by his national teammate Thimmaiah Madanda.
Lobo joined the Bangalore Warhawks and played in the Elite Football League of India (EFLI). But the transition from rugby to American football was not easy.
“American football was similar to rugby in terms of technique but kit-wise, it was difficult. I had neck pain for two to three weeks due to the heavy helmet. It took me over a month to get used to it,” says Lobo, who kept at it because he loved the game.
With EFLI, players like Lobo got the chance to play professionally and it was a first in the country. But due to inadequate financial support and lack of popularity, the tournament was a failure.
Another attempt was made through American Football Federation of India (AFFI) that organised a match between Team India and Dubai Falcons. But not much has happened since then.
Lobo believes if a league similar to Pro Kabaddi is launched in India, American football can gain popularity and help the country make it to the world stage.
“American football is an expensive sport. It needs a proper grass ground. It is entertaining to watch but it is really hard to understand the basic rules. AFFI is trying to get people to watch more matches,” Lobo says.
The youngster looks up to Sonny Bill Williams of New Zealand and Adrian Peterson of Minnesota Vikings.
“The future of the sport is not so dark considering it has now been inducted in school sports programmes,” he says.
But with lack of promotion, limited infrastructure, the sport that is played in many countries needs a push from the government and, above all, people.