Women's rugby gains ground, but recognition's hard to come by in K'taka

Lack of infrastructure and funds also hamper the sport’s growth in the state.
Women's rugby gains ground, but recognition's hard to come by in K'taka
Women's rugby gains ground, but recognition's hard to come by in K'taka
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Sitara Indramohan started playing rugby eight years ago, giving the sport a go on her friend’s recommendation.

“It is not a very popular sport among women and not even most men understand the basics of the sport. People have a lot of misconceptions about the game. They think it has no rules and that people just fall on top of each other. It is portrayed as a very violent sport. If you ask someone on the road what rugby is, most of them wouldn’t know. But rugby is a game with very strict rules,” Sitara says.

Sitara, a player in the Indian Women’s Rugby team, who has also played at the Asian Games, says that the game is not popular among women mostly because they think it is difficult and do not want to try it. “Most women think that they are not strong enough to play the game but with practise, anyone can play it. It is one of the games with a great structure and a lot of rules,” she adds.

There is just one national level tournament in India for rugby, which usually takes place around July and August.

She says that the game is, however, slowly gaining popularity. This year, Karnataka formed its first under-18 girls’ and boys’ rugby team.

“The team was formed in September and in October they participated in the tournament held in Maharashtra. Most of the girls, who had a history of playing some sport, were roped in for the team this year. They had only one month’s time to practice but for a team that is nascent they contested against some seasoned teams and they fared well. With practise, they will do better,” said the team’s assistant coach, Tejas N.

Sitara also says that the cricket craze in India overshadows the drive to fund other sports. “The facilities for rugby in Bengaluru is also not that great. The government is not ready to sponsor the game,” she adds.

Rugby requires a grass field and players in the city have a tough time finding a ground to play on.

“’Our practice grounds keep changing. Most recently it has been the CMP Army ground off Hosur Road. Earlier we were using the Adugodi Police grounds, but we need to get permission to play every time the Police Commissioner changes. Getting permission in Kanteerava Stadium is also difficult as the grounds are reserved for football practice,” Sitara says.

The problem is because there has been no grassroots programme where rugby has been taught in schools or children have been trained in the sport, says Zaffar Khan from Khelo Rugby, an organisation which promotes the game.

“The boys’ rugby team in Bengaluru was always strong especially when it started off in 1997. There were no kids who were trained after that and the older crowd is now trying to hold the game. Around 300 kids and mostly girls are trained every weekend in the game. In December, there is a five-day winter camp conducted in Sarjapur Road and HSR Layout,” Zaffar adds.

Around 180 children turned up for the camp on the first day, which took place on Monday. The idea is to get more children interested in the game and in turn spread the word.

“India does have a good women’s team. They are not doing well at the international level but are progressing slowly at the Asian level,” he said.

The lack of infrastructure and finance aside, the sport’s popularity has been low because most schools do not have it in their curriculum.

“Every sport is recognised by the Indian Olympic Association has recognised Rugby India. Each state association for the game has to be affiliated to the respective state’s Olympic Association. Karnataka Rugby Football Union has not yet been affiliated to the state’s Olympic Association as the paper work has not yet been processed,” said Punit Krishnamurty, a former rugby player, who has also played for the Commonwealth Games.

In addition, as the game has not obtained official recognised by the Karnataka government, many children do not take up the sport as it would not help them get into college through a quota.

“Since the Karnataka Rugby Football Union has not been affiliated to the Olympic Association, anyone who plays the sport will not get a state level certificate. This is required for anyone to apply to colleges through sports quota, which is why most children in government schools do not take up this sport. Also, schools do not want to take the risk of introducing it into their curriculum as they perceive it to be a violent game,” Krishnamurthy added.

He, however, said that the paperwork filed should be processed within six months and that an under-20 team will be formed next year.

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