NEW DELHI: Few are aware that the 30th senior national fencing championship is underway. While the sport is in the ‘general’ category among disciplines in India, the sports ministry has identified fencing as one of the 14 disciplines to be developed as medal prospects, keeping in mind the 2024 and 2028 Olympics and beyond. Bhavani Devi is the only fencer with a chance of securing a berth in the Tokyo Olympics.
While there is talent, the sport has been held back due to a shortage of competitions — domestic and international. Bhavani has managed to train abroad while participating in international competitions with the help of sponsors, but others have not been as lucky.
Army Sports Institute hired Oleg Batanov as coach in the foil section for fencers training there in 2016-17. The Russian says if treated with patience, they will be there and thereabouts in three years.
“If you send the fencers to one international event in a year and they return empty-handed, you can’t blame them. Sports is a result-oriented business, but they need time and exposure. I’m sure eventually they will come good,” he told this daily.
Oleg is also asked to help with the national camp and his contract runs till June. In 2016-17, Indian fencers were sent only to the Asian Championship and had to make do with the senior nationals and Federation Cup.
The following year, World Championship, a satellite event and the Asian Championship made up their international calendar, while senior nationals was the only domestic meet. In 2018-19, apart from the Asian meet, there was one World Cup and a camp abroad with the nationals.
“The association tried to arrange for meets but lack of funding meant fencers had to make do with these events. If they get to train with top athletes and keep sparring against high-quality opposition regularly, there is no reason why we can’t win medals.” Fencing Association of India secretary Bashir Ahmed Khan admitted that funds are a problem.
“There was no proper annual calendar for training and competition (ACTC) two years back. Now we have funds till March and will then formulate the new ACTC. With the government’s intention of promoting fencing, I’m sure we can see a lot of developments.”
There are plans to hire foreign coaches in all three categories and increase the number of international and domestic tournaments. “Coaches will be hired for four years and hopefully, post-Tokyo they can start working. There are plans to start a ranking tournament system in the domestic circuit,” Bashir added.