It was the occasion of Asian 5 Nation Tournament at Lahore in Pakistan. The Indian boys were ready to leave for their tour after their selection camp in Amritsar. But with a heavy jolt, the news came that 10 out of 23 boys were denied visa as they were serving the Indian army. The 13 left, were in shock as to how to approach the game. But they decided to proceed and face the circumstances.
The first match was lost by the Indians against Uzbekistan and they had to face the home team in their second match. The stadium was full with all the Pakistani fans and media. The young Indian boys were under tremendous mental pressure. At that time, stepped in Gautam Dagar, the experienced young player who along with Nasser Hussain, another senior member of the squad and their coach motivated the team. Their experience helped the entire team to play with all their hearts and the result was that India had won the match.
But unfortunately, there was no media coverage for this marvellous win. Little is known about these brave boys as they play Rugby and not the usual popular sport in India. Gautam Dagar still remembers that day-
“Whenever I remember that day I still get goosebumps. It was such a unique win for every one of us. It made us confident and we were proud that we also could win for India. After that match we claimed ourselves as 13 Spartans of India.”
Gautam Dagar started playing Rugby at the age of 15, just for having fun, after his 10th standard board exams. It was a new sport to him and thus, he decided to try it. But once he started playing it, he could not leave it. There was no looking back for him from there. His family was sporting enough to let him continue playing the game, save sometimes his mother would get angry when he came home with bruises and cuts and limping leg. Might be that was the worry of a mother who knew the plight of unknown players in the bleak scenario of Indian sports. But still Gautam Dagar follows his passion and clearly states-
“The values of this sport makes it unique and unifying which attracts me the most. The game taught me a lot of good things through discipline, integrity and solidarity. It changed my vision of life.”
This change of vision has made Gautam stop complaining about the sorry state of affairs in sports in India. Rather, it made him realize that players like him have to continue with the lack of fundamental facilities like provision of quality grounds and high-end equipment. Moreover there is a dearth of Rugby players in India. There is a misconception that the sport is injury-prone which results in unavailability of players in the field. However, Gautam changed that conception and acts as an inspiration to many.
“I was the first one who started Rugby in my village in Maidan Garhi. After seeing my brother Deepak and me representing India in Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and many international tournaments, kids from my village are inspired. They are following our footsteps and are getting involved in this game. Presently, there are more than 200 players around my village playing Rugby.”
It has been 14 years since Gautam is playing Rugby. When he started, there were hardly any clubs or players dedicated to this sport. Though still there is no exclusive Rugby ground in India, but there are clubs who have come forward to give space to this sport. National-level tournaments like All India University Games, National School Games, Federation Cup, All India South Asia Tournament and Callaghan Cup are being organized to give some boost to this sport.
“When we are competing in national level the competition level is tough but not tough as international level. International teams like Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore have a very good standard of Rugby. It is a professional sport there and players get paid.”
But still Gautam is quite optimistic about the opportunity level in this sport. As Rugby is an Olympic sport, there are chances for its improvement. He himself is a level-3 certified Rugby coach and is always open in sharing his knowledge to the junior players and develop the game in India.
Debut for India in Singer 7s, Sri Lanka in 2007
Represented India as player in:
- World Cup Qualifier, Hong Kong in 2008
- Asian 5 Nation, Malaysia in 2009
- Singapore 7s in 2009
- Borneo 7s in 2009
- Commonwealth Preparation Camp, South Africa in 2009
- Bees &s London in 2010
- Commonwealth Games Delhi in 2010
- Asian Games, Guangzhou, China in 2010
Represented India as captain in:
- Asian 5 Nation, Malaysia in 2013
- Melrose 7s, Scotland in 2013
- Asian 7s, Chennai in 2016
- Asian 7s championship, Qatar in 2016
- Asian 7s Championship, Dubai in 2017