Sanatan Pani

Among the recent sporting successes achieved by Odisha, two medals at the 31st Senior National Fencing Championship and one at the 2nd Khelo India Winter Games were exceptional. The fencing medals - one silver and one bronze - were first for Odisha in a National Championship and eight fencers, mostly from Bolangir, achieved the historic success in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand on March 21.

Odisha men’s epee team, featuring Nitin Swain, Satish Garnaik, Praveen Kumar and Bhupen Singh won the silver medal, while the foil team comprising Sahil Kumbhar, Herojit Singh, Rabi Kumar Singh and Rabindra Kumar secured the bronze. Though Odisha put up a stiff fight, it lost to eventual champions Services.

It is amazing that the fencers won the National medals without any noteworthy support. In a sport like fencing, where modern training facilities, expensive equipment and scientific coaching play important role, Odisha fencers had nothing. Most of them went through their training at RN Singh Deo Sports Complex in Bolangir, where the only facility available was a mat.

Odisha fencers Sahil Kumbhar (L) and Nitin Swain with coach Karishma Rout at the Senior National Championship in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand.

But as the adage goes, where there is a will, there is a way. Here their passion was not only their will, it was their energy too. They worked for four years, under the guidance of two self-made coaches, Sukanta Seth and Karishma Rout, who were equally passionate about fencing and never asked any return for their efforts.

What kept the fencers going was the overwhelming support from Bolangir District Fencing Association, its secretary Sumit Purohit and respective families. Of course, the Odisha State Fencing Association (OSFA) facilitated their participation in the national championship.

Together they worked quietly and worked hard, taking in their strides obstacles and failures as well as pain and paucity of funds. They toiled while training, but never gave up hope. No wonder that they could not believe it when the dream came true with the medals. It was a double delight that Odisha also bagged the second runners-up trophy.

In the Khelo India Winter Games, a four-member Odisha team, featuring Chandan Mahana, Swaraj Mahapatra, Arabinda Padhi and Sonu Semelia claimed the bronze in men’s icestock sport in Gulmarg, Jammu & Kashmir on 27 February 2021.

This was the second Khelo India Winter Games medal for the state icestock team, which had secured silver in the first edition one year ago with Anuj Choudhury, Hardik Sharma, Akash Kumbhar and Sonu Semelia as the members of the team.

Though lesser-known in Odisha, icestock sport has been fetching glory for the state since 2020. Before the 2nd Khelo India Winter Games, Odisha boys Kunal Behera and Anuj Choudhury won bronze medal in sub-junior category of the 7th National Icestock Sport Championship, held in Gulmarg from 29 to 31 January, 2021.

Odisha fencers with Senior National 2nd runners-up trophy in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand.

But, like the fencers, icestock athletes have been struggling to find support for sustenance and development. Jharsuguda-based Icestock Sport Association of Odisha, the governing body of the sport in the state, is yet to get recognition from the state government. If the sport is alive and kicking, credit should go to multi-tasking Prem Singh Thapa, the state association president, patron, coach and mentor.

It’s unfortunate that the wonderful achievements of the fencers and icestock athletes have not received the recognition and rewards they highly deserve. The only encouragement that has come their way so far is congratulatory tweets and posts in the social media handles of the Department of Sports & Youth Services, Government of Odisha.

It must be noted that these achievements are credible and details of performances are available on official platforms. Moreover, fencing was one of the first sports to be played in the Olympics. When Tamil Nadu fencer Bhavani Devi could be rewarded by a Bhubaneswar-based varsity with a cash prize of Rs 5 lakh and a smartphone for Olympic qualification, don’t our own boys deserve a better deal?

Athletes of Odisha icestock team with coach Prem Singh Thapa during Khelo India Winter Games in Gulmarg.

The achievements of Odisha icestock athletes assume significance considering the fact that they belong to a non-snowfalling state. They generally compete in the Nationals after undergoing short training stints in a snowfalling state and that too spending from their own pockets. Rest of their training takes place at an impoverished place in Jharsuguda.

For the uninitiated, icestock sport, a close cousin of curling and pétanque, is played on ice and involves sliding a heavy object (known as a ‘stock’) in the direction of a target. The sport has been demonstrated at the Winter Olympic Games on two occasions. Although the sport is traditionally played on an ice surface, events are also held on tarmac in summer.

Odisha is claiming itself as the sports capital of India by efficiently hosting a number of international events, building world-class stadiums, setting up high-performance centres and academies, sponsoring National teams, providing employment opportunities to meritorious sportspersons and funds for their training abroad.

Even sport disciplines are being promoted, targeting future Olympics and sportspersons are given advance financial support hoping they would win medals for the state and the country one day. But what about the disciplines and their practitioners who went all the way without support and achieved creditable success?

It would be a nice gesture if the fencers and icestock athletes are given their due, thus making them feel that the state takes care of them too. After all, they are not asking for the moon. “We need better facilities to train and recognition for our achievements. We have proved our ability without support. We will do better if our needs are taken care of,” said fencers Nitin and Sahil.

“Even if eligible, we could not do our NIS coaching diploma due to paucity of funds. We impart coaching on the strength of our past experience as fencers and some knowledge we gained from a foreign coach during a clinic at Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar. If we get an opportunity to undergo advance coaching courses, we can deliver better results,” added an optimistic Karishma Rout.

“Our work and achievements often go unnoticed as we belong to Western Odisha. We are unable to make frequent visits to Bhubaneswar and Cuttack to get recognition and support,’’ lamented Prem Thapa.

With OSFA hosting the 22nd Sub-Junior National Fencing Championship at J N Indoor Stadium in Cuttack and Thapa stewarding a 30-member Odisha squad at the National Pencak Silat Championship in Srinagar simultaneously from March 24, would it not be an ideal occasion for the State Government to warm the hearts of fencers and icestock athletes?

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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