BENGALURU: Fouaad Mirza is synonymous with equestrian in India. Barring the product of Embassy International Riding School (EIRS), who finished 23rd at the Tokyo Olympics, it is hard to recollect any Indian who has competed with such confidence at the top level. With equestrian being one of the most expensive sports in India, the takers are limited. In order to take it up, you have to be super rich or have tremendous backing.
On that count, Mirza , who trains abroad, has been lucky to have financial support of EIRS in Bengaluru, which celebrated its 25th year anniversary recently. It has good infrastructure and offers high-quality training. However, since its inception in 1996, it has not been easy sailing. They have faced many challenges, especially with the army's dominance in the Equestrian Federation of India (EFI). Jitu Virwani, EIRS owner, who is passionate about the sport, threw more light on the problems.
“One of the largest challenges (for EIRS) has been the dominance of the army within EFI. Army personnel continue to be in command, unfortunately. Being an outsider and a civilian, it’s been challenging to work with them – it’s been an uphill battle to get them to be less rigid and enable the sport to grow. One of many examples is funding. Though I had RBI approval, the EFI hasn’t provided the required NOC to deploy sponsorship funds. I had to begin investing my own funds to train riders and to provide them with the pedigree of horses needed to compete at the highest level. From 2014 until today, I have spent about $8-9 million. I have spent Rs 15 crore on Fouaad Mirza’s Olympic journey alone,” Jitu told TNIE.
The EIRS has emerged as one of the premier riding schools in India, run according to the British Horse Society standards. It was at the EIRS, where the Asian Games trials for India were also held last month too. The venue has witnessed some domestic as well as international events in the past. They have done their bit to promote the sport. The advent of the Equestrian Premier League a decade ago or so, is one such example, where riders from various parts of the country compete.
More importantly, they have tried to spot talented riders and train them, giving them access to top coaches and facilities.
However, Silva Storai, EIRS director, believes that the federation needs to be more supportive. “There are many things that need to be done in order to see the sport grow and develop in India. First of all, we need a strong federation to take everybody to the next level. Right now, everybody feels that the federation is run by the army and not so, maybe, civilian friendly in a way like, the civilians requirement to grow in the sport is different from the army men. Unless you have a federation that really works for the betterment of the sport, it gets tough,” said Silva.
Despite the problems they have faced over the years, Jitu is hopeful of inspiring more equestrian riders. "As we continue to stride ahead, our goal is to further the momentum and take the sport up a notch. In the next five years, we are looking to host a few international events here to inspire aspiring equestrian homegrown athletes. Unfortunately, unless we see greater transparency from EFI, our efforts will be in vain."