As with all new things, Pickleball in India has been through ups and downs; some disturbing and unfortunate incidents led to some unpleasant experience. Still, the essence of the sport prevailed and Pickleball India is into greener pasture now.
It’s been almost 15 years since Pickleball has started in India. The date goes back to 2006 when Sunil Valavalkar brought paddles and balls from the United States and started to play with his daughter and niece in the backyard of his own home. From the suburbs of Mumbai, Pickleball gradually spread to 15 states in India with All India Pickleball Association (AIPA) being the governing body of the sport in the country.
While talking about the commencement and growth of Pickleball in India, Sunil Valavalkar, the Founder Director of AIPA said, “AIPA was founded as an organization under Section 25 of Companies Act and it invested in resources to spread Pickleball in different states of India. Here I say that it wouldn’t have been possible without the contribution of players, officials, directors and well wishers. The sport was growing; so in 2019 we felt that it was necessary to have a strong administrative partner.”
Arvind Prabhoo, a highly respected sport administrator of Mumbai, who passionately nurtures different sporting ideas in Prabodhankar Thackeray Krida Sankul, initiated the formation of Amateur Pickleball Federation of India (APFI) to act strongly along with AIPA in developing Pickleball in India.
The registration of APFI was officially confirmed in October 2020 in the midst of pandemic crisis. Since then, the two organizations are presently working side by side with AIPA acting as the constitutional guardian of the sport while APFI undertaking the implementation and execution process. Arvind Prabhoo proudly announces, “We are very happy to act as the implementation arm of AIPA because of the vast experience of the organisation.”
AIPA and APFI are working together to bring certain modifications in the existing system. To reach the grassroot level, the organizations have introduced the concept of Pickleball Development Officer (PDO). Any person interested in developing Pickleball in their own locality or region can apply for the post. They will be provided with all resources and accessories for their promotional activities.
Arvind Prabhoo said, “Apart from this, to reach the country’s hinterlands, we are trying to place Pickleball in School Games. Once introduced in schools, Pickleball can have newer and younger generation of players who can be moulded to bring in fresh approach to the sport.”
To reach further, both AIPA and APFI are focussing on their strong digital presence. Active social media platforms and a revamped website are helping them to have more engagements and enquiries about the sport. The memberships are now open through AIPA’s website and new states and players can join in without any hassle.
But most importantly, Pickleball India is now gearing up for the 2nd RYP Tournament to be held in December 2021 at Olympic Sport Centre in Palava, Maharashtra. This is the only ranking tournament in the country, the first edition of which was played in 2019 at Balewadi Stadium in Pune. The pandemic put a halt on the tournament in 2020 making players wait for the 2nd edition.
This year, as announced by Arvind Prabhoo, the tournament will be a bigger and better affair. APFI is expecting a participation of more than 350 players from across the country. But the highlight of the tournament- the Most Valuable Player will be sponsored by APFI to participate in the next Asian tournament.
Mike Johnson, the Board Member and Secretary of International Federation of Pickleball (IFP), is expected to grace the occasion. His presence will enhance IFP’s support to Indian Pickleball through exchange of ideas and concepts for the further development of the sport in India. Mike Johnson, in an exclusive chat said, “Sunil Valavalkar has updated me about the history of the sport in India. I hope to learn a lot more and meet a lot more personalities when I visit the country in December. At the IFP we want to help and support the local efforts to grow Pickleball in India.” But perhaps the most interesting development of which Mike Johnson is also excited about, is the launching of India-made Pickleball paddles by YMak Sports.
The paddles launched in three series, with fibre glass face and polypropylene honeycomb core, are perfectly Indian with their names derived from our rich mythology. The preliminary category series that for the beginners is titled Aarambh inspired from the concept of beginning of time. The next series is titled Agni that encourages unleashing the power from oneself. But the most prized one is the Brahma paddle- the topmost quality that can compete with any international brand. Like the speed of Brahmastra, this series can ignite the passion from deep inside and take a player to the pinnacle of victory.
Yashodhan Deshmukh, an initiator of YMak Sports said, “We always kept in mind about manufacturing low-cost paddles. A beginner, who is trying out a new sport like Pickleball, always wants to invest in lost-cost paddles initially. Till now he/she had no option other than going for imported paddles. But now we assure that Made-in-India paddles are available online and gradually they will be available in stores and sports counters.”
Thus, a fresh outlook, many new beginnings and committed people at the helm, Pickleball India is ready to take on positive strides. AIPA, being the founder member of IFP, is strongly supported by the international organisation in all aspects. The next step, on which AIPA and APFI have set an eye on is the hosting of Bainbridge Cup in India, the biggest tournament of Pickleball that happens annually.