New Delhi, Dec 12: Continuing their dominance in the game of Kho Kho, Indian men's and women's Kho Kho teams clinched respective gold medals in the just concluded 13th South Asian Games in Kathmandu.
India finished the multi-sporting event with its record haul of 312 medals, including 174 yellow metals. India's Kho Kho teams were felicitated by Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju upon their return from Nepal and they were even given cash awards.
Kho Kho has been one of the oldest traditional sports in India. Almost everyone must have played this game in their childhood but just like Kabaddi, the indigenous sport didn't capture the imagination of the common people.
MyKhel chatted with the captains of men's and women's Kho Kho teams, asked about their plans and checked if the attitude of people towards this traditional sport has changed in India.
Here are the excerpts:
MyKhel: Do you feel the gold medal at SAG 2019 will help change the face of Kho Kho in India?
Balasaheb Pokhare, captain men's Kho Kho team: Yes, it will help change the face of the game in the country. Our gold medal will inspire the youngsters to win a gold medal for India in this discipline. If we manage to inspire budding talents, that will be the biggest gain for the sport as more and more players will pick Kho Kho as a serious career option.
MK: You guys met with the Sports Minister after your return from Kathmandu, what was the message from the ministry?
Balasaheb Pokhare: The Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju was very encouraging. It was the first occasion when we got a chance to personally meet the minister and he congratulated us for winning the gold medal and bringing laurels to the country. His words were very motivating.
MK: Any announcements from the federation regarding prize money?
Balasaheb Pokhare: Yes, the Sports Minister gave us a surprise by announcing prize money worth Rs 5 lakhs for each team - boys and girls. It was a wonderful surprise for all of us. The team is thankful to the federation for supporting us thoroughly. Every member of the support staff will be receiving prize money of Rs 20000 each.
MK: What are your plans for the future?
Balasaheb Pokhare: I have never set big targets for myself. I have set small goals for me and that has helped me reach where I am i.e. leading the Indian national team. Now my target is to focus on the Asian Games.
MK: Contact sports are very popular in the west but not in our country. What according to you is the reason why this ancient sport hasn't drawn much attention? Is the attitude of the people changing towards kho-kho or is there still a long way to go?
Balasaheb Pokhare: Yes, the attitude towards Kho-Kho is changing in the country. I've met several youngsters who tell me that they want to emulate me and one day represent India in this sport. I am sure the awareness of the people has increased towards Kho-Kho. Pro Kabaddi has changed the fate of Kabaddi in India after getting broadcast on the television. Similarly, we are very excited about the prospects of the Ultimate Kho Kho League that will soon make its debut.
MK: The federation is going to organize a franchise-based league. How do you think it will help the sport and the athletes?
Balasaheb Pokhare: All a player wants is that his game must be watched by as many people as possible and the upcoming league will ensure that. When the sport starts getting aired on the television it will help us get popular and become a household name just like Kabaddi. Once that happens, the sport will automatically benefit out of it because it will encourage the youngsters to pursue a career in Kho-Kho for they will be assured that now they can earn a livelihood playing this game.
It's an interesting sport and has all the ingredients to reaching out to the masses, entertaining them, and keeping them hooked with their television screen till the last moment. If you look at the national championships then the competition there is very stiff and due to that, we witness a huge crowd turnout. Imagine that turnout getting converted into huge numbers once the matches start getting broadcast on national television.
MK: Kho-kho is a very fast and absorbing game how do you keep yourselves fit? How many hours do you workout at the gym and practice on the mats?
Balasaheb Pokhare: We train two to three times a day - morning and evening session. For fitness, we focus on running to increase our strength and stamina. After that, we work on improving our game techniques which involve shadow practice, game specification and running. Getting match practice is very important for that will only help us evolve and introduce a new strategy. We spend two hours in the morning and three hours in the evening daily on our fitness and honing our skills.
MK: Do you feel the gold medal at SAG 2019 will help change the face of kho kho in India?
Nasreen, girls team captain: Yes, I think this is going to help the game take a leap. We have won two South Asian Games titles now and the government is also helping indigenous sports to grow.
MK: Do you think enough is being done to promote kho kho in the country?
Nasreen: The game is now picking momentum. As a player, my only focus is to keep getting better and win medals for the country. But I definitely believe that the sport will soon be on par with other sports in India.
MK: Contact sports are very popular in Western countries. What according to you could be the reason for this sport not getting popular in India?
Nasreen: I cannot put a finger on why the sport did not grow as popular as in the west. But it surely is growing steadily now. The players, coaches and federation all are working to make sure that the sport reaches its fullest potential.
MK: How do female Kho Kho players keep themselves fit?
Nasreen: We train 2 times a day - morning and evening session. For fitness, I focus on running and take my diet seriously.