Indian Rugby has a promising future despite facing odds: Delhi Hurricanes coach Kuldeep Singh Bist
Rugby, which is relatively unpopular in India is now in the spotlight and is being seen as a platform for women empowerment with many girls from various backgrounds representing the country.
- The reign of rugby girls
Recently, India women's national rugby team scripted history when they played their first-ever International test match against Singapore. Rugby, which is relatively unpopular in India is now in the spotlight and is being seen as a platform for women empowerment with many girls from various backgrounds representing the country at the International level.
The men's rugby team has made a name in the Asian circuit with the likes of player-turned- Bollywood actor Rahul Bose and Nasser Hussain, leading the country for many years. Interestingly, Bollywood actor Sidharth Malhotra has also been associated with the sport for quite some time.
Indian rugby, for long, has boasted of a cherished club culture, with an illustrious line-up of Bombay Gymkhana, Kolkata Police, among others making their mark in the field.
The New Indian Express caught up with Kuldeep Singh Bist, the head coach of Delhi Hurricanes -- one of the premier clubs and the reigning All India & South Asia Rugby Tournament champions.
Kuldeep, a former rugby player, also made a name for himself as a fitness guru and is the personal trainer of actor Sidharth Malhotra. He shares his insight on the growth of rugby in the country and how his club is promoting the game by reaching out to players from hinterlands.
Indian women played their first ever test match last month, but why were they not allowed to participate at the Asian Games?
KSB: The sports ministry had decided to send only medal contenders for Asian Games. Our rugby contingent is currently ranked 12th in Asia and we didn't get permission. But, even unknown teams from other fields got an opportunity to participate at Games.
What is the next major tournament coming up for the Indian team, both men and women?
KSB: In October, they will participate in Asian 7s tournament which will be held at Bhubaneshwar.
Being one of the premier clubs in the sport, how is Delhi Hurricanes working towards the promotion of rugby in India?
KSB: Despite getting no support from anyone, the club is doing an excellent job towards promoting the game, especially in Delhi, since we are a Delhi-based club. But we are giving opportunities to the players from other states too to hone up their skills.
Also, Hurricanes have reached states like Bihar, Rajasthan, Assam, Uttar Pradesh and establishing local Hurricanes clubs. We have recently started Magadh Hurricanes and Jaipur Hurricanes. Delhi Hurricanes has earned a name for themselves and foreign coaches also come to the club frequently to coach our players. Our coaches and players are also invited to their countries to enhance their knowledge.
How many Hurricanes players have represented the country in both 7s and 15s?
KSB: Well, we have a long list of around 40 players who have represented Indian National team, including 11 girls in different age groups.
Why is rugby not as popular as other sports?
KSB: Rugby is an upcoming sport in India so it's obvious that it will take time to get popular. National teams have to win competitions to get the attention of masses.
Don't you think rugby is limited to an elite class, what should be done to make it popular like other sports?
KSB: Rugby is a tough sport and a very demanding game--physically and mentally, so if you want to play contact games, first you need to have a proper field with a layer of grass on it. But unfortunately, we lack such an infrastructure here. I hope, it’s high time we improve basic infrastructure like fields, coaches, etc.
How has the rugby scene changed since you began your career?
KSB: Numbers have definitely gone up but the overall standard of rugby has gone down. Only top 2-3 club teams have contributed maximum players to national level.
Do you think women's rugby is doing better than men's rugby?
KSB: Competition is immense in men’s Rugby. Other Asian teams are doing better as they are giving better facilities to their players. Given our circumstances, our players have been doing their best but it’s not enough. Women’s rugby has less competition right now, and I am sure other countries with good infrastructure will have a much better chance than us.
Are we getting enough attention and support from the government in rugby?
KSB: Well, denying our team entry in Asian games is the right answer to this question.
Are we promoting the game properly? Do we have enough funds for it?
KSB: As far as our club is concerned, we are doing our best to provide all facilities for players despite no support from the government. We get support only from former players and supporters.
What are the short and long-term goals of Indian rugby? And what role are you playing in your present position?
KSB: My answer will be the same as above but as far as Hurricanes is concerned, we are very keen to grow the numbers. We have currently 600 male and female players from different age groups. We also run programmes by involving schools and NGOs.
Can we expect a professional league like IPL or Pro Kabaddi League?
KSB: Rugby India is the right place to answer that but we are very keen to start School League in Delhi very soon.
Sidharth Malhotra has credited you for his fitness, what are your fondest memories of him?
KSB: Sidharth has been like a son to me. He is a good student, humble and despite achieving fame and glory, hasn’t changed a bit in his personal life. I have many fond memories and I am very proud of him.
How many years did Sidharth play for the Delhi Hurricanes?
KSB: Five years.
Who are some of the upcoming players from your club, we should watch out for?
KSB: We have some of the best players like India and Delhi Hurricanes Captain Vikas Khatri, Kamaldeep Dagar, Deepak Punia. In the women team, we have Namita, Priya Bansal, Babli, Ria Bisht. They are young, energetic, and will represent the national team for a long time if they are fit. Also, we have many upcoming players who will soon come to the limelight.