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Shaping the future of Taekwondo in India against all odds - Namdev Shirgaonkar

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Taekwondo Federation of India (TFI) was de-recognised back in 2014

Shaping the future of Taekwondo in India against all odds - Namdev Shirgaonkar

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sounak mullick


‘The federation was de-recognised way back in 2014, and the greatest intensity was directed towards the athletes. The athletes bore the brunt until things were back in order, - Namdev Shirgaonkar, President of Taekwondo India (TI).

When we glance through the sports headlines of a morning daily while sipping tea to break the slumber, it’s generally the rosy things that we are looking at. The success story often undermines the brewing background and the innumerous hurdles which athletes overcome during their strenuous yet memorable journey - from the first training session to becoming overnight household names. What’s more infuriating is the fact that Indian sports have suffered more due to political reasons, internal mishaps, difference of opinions - rather than anything else. While incidents revolving around sports that enjoy huge following like cricket, football, tennis, badminton - hog the limelight sooner than other disciplines, others take time to surface. And there are cases where it goes unnoticed altogether.

For instance, Taekwondo - an Olympic sport has been bearing the brunt of mismanagement for long with issues like infighting, ego tussles, myopic vision letting both the game and their athletes down. It was back in 2014 that the Sports Ministry de-recognised the Taekwondo Federation of India (TFI), while it was also suspended by World Taekwondo (WT) for factionalism. Since then, the sport was neglected in such a way that its existence was hardly felt, while selection trials for International events were nothing more than a farce. Indeed, the athletes were the biggest losers, knowing that they have it in them to shine at the highest level.

Like every cloud has a silver lining and every storm follows with bright sunshine, Indian Olympic Association (IOA)’s move to constitute a five-member ad-hoc committee with Namdev Shirgaonkar as its chairman with a mandate to carry out the election procedures within a stipulated time-frame - proved to be a masterstroke. Not only did the committee restore uniformity, but it also showed the direction for the future, as it formed a selection panel with World Taekwondo (WT) representative Milan Kwee of Singapore, with the help of Sports Authority of India (SAI) and conducted trails at Aurangabad for selecting the contingent ahead of the 2019 South Asian Games (SAG).

“The main plan was to get the athletes back in order. We have initiated tie-ups with other federations, the main aim has always been for the betterment for the athletes. Olympic qualifications are right around the corner (now), that has been at the forefront for the federation. We are hoping to completely affiliate with SAI and make sure that the athletes can once again compete at the highest level with absolute support,” Namdev Shirgaonkar told Sportscafe during an exclusive interview.

The outcome?

India hit all the correct notes at the 2019 South Asian Games, as the contingent returned with a haul of 26 medals, which comprised nine gold, ten silver and seven bronze, finishing second overall behind hosts Nepal. Interestingly, the Nepal Olympic Committee initially showed disapproval towards India participating in the meet following their suspension by World Taekwondo, but it was the same organisation (World Taekwondo), along with the International Olympics Committee (IOC) that jointly gave the green signal for the Indian athletes. Everything happens for a reason, doesn’t it?

India returned with 26 medals from the 2019 South Asian Games in Nepal © Facebook

“We are thankful to all the athletes. It was an extremely short notice in which the trials were conducted and they performed so beautifully (in the 2019 South Asian Games). The results are definitely the turning point for Taekwondo in India. It is now noticeable and definitely, more will be done now to only grow. The medals have only been a boost and a foreign coach was appointed with the help of SAI, Mr. Bagri who is an Olympic medalist coach. The long term plan is to take it step by step with Asian Games to be looked at and eventually the Olympic Games,” stated the official.

Hard-work always pays off, sooner or later. World Taekwondo finally took notice of Namdev and Co. and applauded for extensive work done by the interim board. That’s not all. The president of the apex body, Hoss Rafaty, even recognised India Taekwondo (IT) as the sole national governing body of the sport in India. Subsequently, Namdev Shirgaonkar became the president of the National Sports Federation (NSF). With the groundwork already done, it’s time for the body to build-up a strong foundation, which would define the fate of the game in the upcoming days.

“The best thing would be to look forward, we are working relentlessly for the betterment of the athletes and that is our sole purpose. World Taekwondo also recognises the talent that India has and has appointed Mr. Milan Kwee to support us to grow leaps and bounds. The world fraternity is now looking towards India for good results and the South Asian Games have just been the start,” added Shirgaonkar.

Looking at the immediate future, the Asian Olympic qualification is still hanging in the balance, fortunately, or unfortunately, owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, the Indian players were slated to visit Turkey and Iran for exposure trips, which doesn’t look like a possibility until the travel restrictions are lifted by the government. For the time being, the safety of the players is the primary concern for the federation, before serious matters crop in later.

“It definitely is in our agenda and part of our Olympic program, but the Covid-19 has halted these plans. We are looking at options that are the best options available to us keeping the safety of everyone involved in mind. That is the main criteria for the federation,” concluded Namdev Shirgaonkar.

We are at least assured that the athletes will get their best shot in the qualifications and hopefully in main events, in Tokyo - which would not have been the case a year and half ago. Even as we speak, the federation is gearing up to host its first-ever online national Taekwondo Poomsae Championship from September 28. Overall, Taekwondo got the push which it had been due for a long time, a push that the game needed and deserved.

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