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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

the sad tale of a Champion sports person struggling to make ends meet !!!

In our school days, the best of sportspersons (generally were not good in studies) but yet could land a dream job in Govt or PSU – Sports quota (usually in Clerical cadre !)

In Forbes Highest paid athletes list of 2016 – the  100 athletes earned a total of $3.15 billion over the last 12 months, a slight decrease from previous year’s earnings of $3.2 billion, which received a boost from the historic $460 million earned by boxers Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, with earnings of $88 million, takes the top spot for the first time.  That was the first time since 2000 that someone besides Mayweather or Tiger Woods has held the top spot.  The list of elite athletes consisted of players from ten different sports. Baseball with 26 players, basketball with 18, football with 21 and soccer with 12 dominated the list. There are no hockey players on the list for a fifth straight year.  There are 23 countries represented on the Highest-Paid Athletes list, with Americans (65) the most prevalent thanks to soaring salaries in baseball, basketball and football. Five Brits landed in the top 100, led by F1 driver Lewis Hamilton at No. 11 with $46 million. Three athletes each made the cut from Argentina, Germany and the Dominican Republic.

It is pretty scientific study as Forbes earnings figures include all salaries and bonuses earned between June 1, 2015 and June 1, 2016. Winnings for golfers and tennis players represent their prize money over that period. Endorsement incomes are an estimate of sponsorship deals, appearance fees and licensing income for the 12 months through June 1 based on conversations with dozens of industry insiders. The golfers’ income includes course design work. -  and Forbes  list only includes athletes active during the last 12 months.


Back home, at Pune – Sanju Samson made a belligerent 102 off mere 63  taking Delhi Daredevils to 205.  The biggest purchase of IPL – Ben Stokes for RPS at 14.5 crore – had figures of 4-0-41-0.  He had been bought more than seven times his base price - to make him the costliest overseas player in IPL history and the second most overall, behind Yuvraj Singh who went to Royal Challengers Bangalore for 16 crore in 2015.  This season, Tymal Mills was bought by RCB for 12 crore; South African pacer Kagiso Rabada for 5 crore; Trent Boult for 5 crore – Pat Cummins for 4.5 crores – the list would tail more and for obvious reasons stopping with top 5 as the essence of the post is something else.

Do you know or have heard of : Appa Rao; Lazar, Dilli, Radhakrishnan,  Nagsen Etambe, RM Shankara, .. Maria Irudayam and more ….  Some of legendary players of an enticing game ! ~ the Carrom board.


By some accounts the game is played here since 18th century  - the game of Majarajas and was popular during 1st World War ?  It is increasingly becoming popular all over the world and is played in about 50 countries. At international level this game is controlled and supervised by the International Carrom Federation and respective continental Federations.   It was (and perhaps is) popular in PSU, where every Branch would have a Sports club and a carom board at that !

A game that can be played with a min of 2 and max of 4 – Red (Queen) at the centre, surrounded in a formation by White and Black.   The opener starts with a hit trying to pocket Whites while the opponent will have Black to dispense with.  In doubles, four persons comprising two teams, sit opposite to each other, occupying all the four sides. At the end of each board, a player gets one point for each carrommen of the opponent left on the board and 3 points for the Queen if already pocketed and covered by him. The player / team who  reaches 25 points first wins the game.  There are further rules too – each set to be decided on the basis of a maximum of 8 boards or 25 points whichever is earlier and there are time limits too.

The most popular Indian sportsperson Sachin Tendulkar got nominated to Rajya Sabha.  He reportedly has attended 23 of the 348 days since his nomination in 2012, the actress Rekha  has attended 18.  According to a data, while Rekha attended the least number of days compared to those who were nominated along with her, the expenditure incurred on her is the highest till date: Rs 65 lakh as salary and expenses. Expenditure incurred on Tendulkar is Rs 58.8 lakh, according to the data.

The official recognition for a Carrom player came only once, in the form of A Maria Irudayam, Two World title and 9 national crown winner getting Arjuna award.  Now read excerpts from the article titled ‘Right strikes from small pockets’ in The New Indian Express, Chennai edition of date.   It is all about the struggle of Stalin Edward, a star Carrom player struggling to make ends meet.


Stalin Edward (28) is exhausted from loading sack bags and other heavy objects into a truck. The daily wage worker unloads the day’s burden and stares at a game board of lacquered plywood. Once a junior national carrom champion (2007-08), Stalin now plays only in a board room at an indoor playroom set up by the Greater Chennai Corporation.  The hood of the lamp that hovers over the carrom board has little mounds of fine talcum on it. He, like several other children from the slums in Periyampet, was drawn to the game while watching a set-up similar to this when he was a kid. Other ‘promising’ youngsters who trained along with him completed formal education and found a government job to feed their passion for the game. Stalin did not finish Class 10 and shoulders the burden of earning for his family of three.

At his young age,  the curiosity to learn the game had become an obsession. He remembers rushing back from school to the board room where he played for five or six hours straight. “I remember Stalin’s mother coming to the board room, yelling at him and hauling him back home,” said Vinnoli Irudayam, a senior carrom player. He was one of the senior players who spotted Stalin’s talent. Vinnoli, who takes care of the corporation board room with other players, is the son of Maria Irudayam, a two-time carrom world champion (1996 and 1998) and an Arjuna Awardee for carom (1997).

Stalin dropped out of school to practice carom everyday. “That kind of dedication hones your skill but does not give you an alternate career or financial stability,” said Vinnoli referring to the fact that if Stalin had to travel for a match, he will have to forego his wages for a few days, and also pay for his travel expenses. “I earn about `10,000 a month.   Training for a State championship will cost me around `3,000,” said Stalin. “I cannot afford to pay for the tickets to travel to bigger tournaments or find sponsors.”  DilliBabu, (remember that his namesake Dilli was a legendary player and once in a Triplicane tournament saw him score a black century with ease)  a leading player for LIC, started playing in the clubs of Periyampet around the same time as Stalin. However, a formal education gave him a government job and financial stability that subsequently helped him become India No 5 (2015-16). Though he even won the National Federation Cup for Carrom (2015),  he says  that even formal education does not guarantee a job based on carrom. “The Railways does not consider carrom players, and banks have stopped recruiting us,” he said.

Almost all players who play at the board room at Periyampet claim that the standard of the game has gone down in the country as players don’t get many opportunities. The last State championship tournament was organised in November 2015 and players cannot be chosen for Nationals unless they contest and earn pre-requisite points in State tournaments.  The informal, yet rigorous, club at the slum at Periyampet is one among several in the city. Chindadiripet, Washermanpet, Vyasarpadi and other parts of North Chennai have several carrom clubs. “These clubs have underprivileged kids who are talented. Tamil Nadu has been producing some of the best carrom champions in India. They have enough local role models they can engage with and learn from. All we need is a system that backs them up,” said Vinnoli as he locks the board room at 8.45 pm on a weekday.

The story somehow leaves you saddened ~ for me too was a great fan (and some player too)  of Carrom in my younger days !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

11th Apr 2017.

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