with Rahul Anil Wani
DOB: 18th April 1987
Rahul Wani dashed into sport as a player at the age of 12; approximately 21 years ago. Starting from Throwball, Netball, Handball to Volleyball, Basketball and even Fencing, his tread is long and fearsome. To follow so many unconventional sports and that too in India, requires much guts with little glory. Thus as a player and more as a coach, Rahul is a gem that Indian sporting fraternity really needs to recognise. Working for almost 14 years in sports industry, Rahul Wani was recently honoured with Education Leadership Award in Sports by Orpit Services Pvt Ltd in Kolkata.
“I started playing when I was in sixth standard. I represented my school and later my college in many state and national tournaments. I even emerged winner in the 3rd Asian Throwball Championship held at Kuala Lumpur. After completing my professional graduation in Physical Education, I was sequentially appointed coach in different teams representing nationally and internationally.”
In 2015, Rahul Wani was nominated as member in Board of Management in National Council for Sports and Youth Development. Seeing his vast expertise in the technical aspects of sports, All India Pickleball Association (AIPA) nominated Rahul Wani as Tournament Director for its 1st National Tournament held in Mumbai. After his smooth and skillful operation in the event, AIPA showed further trust on him by reappointing him as Tournament Director in the following national tournaments. He was also given the responsibility for the 1st Indian Open Pickleball Championship.
“I still remember the first time at Gadkari Rangayatan in Thane when I met Sunil Valavalkar sir and came to know about the game of Pickleball. It was around 2010-11. By that time AIPA was already registered under the Companies Act. The game was indeed fascinating and quite attractive but what I liked most was the way AIPA worked to spread the game. The whole process was exceptionally transparent.”
Wani is quite sure that Pickleball is the game that can change the statistics of sports followers in India. Its pan-age appeal across all genders makes it unique. Though Indian sports industry is making new hybrid games, Pickeball scores above all other hybrid games because it has an elegant history that travelled from USA to India.
“In the last five to six years, Pickleball has grown rapidly. It is being now played in 12-15 states. Especially in cities like Mumbai, Bangalore and Jaipur the game is at a high level of popularity. It is a matter of pride for Indian Pickleball that Indian players are making their mark in international tournaments by winning medals of all colours.”
Initially, AIPA intended to introduce the game as a family game in India. It was promoted with the motto ‘Fitness with Fun’. But gradually as players started joining in and the game started spreading to different states, steps were taken to give the game a competitive edge. Since competition evolved, the motto has now changed to ‘Sports for Life’. However, Rahul Wani wonders why in India development of a game leads to controversy, conflicts and divisions? He fears that perhaps Pickleball can also go into the grip of such developmental hazards.
“Development is always welcome and changes should be accepted. But Indian sport is always in a murky space. I don’t want to see Pickleball getting into a similar situation. Coming to the point of organizational thinking, people who are placed in higher ranks and positions should be well aware that they are at first promoters of this beautiful game. So for the interest of this game, they should put their individual interests and personal disagreements out of context. Our Indian games always suffer because office bearers sometimes cannot put the games before their self. This should not happen in Pickleball. Otherwise it will be very difficult for an organization to run smoothly. We are all matured and should deal with problems tactfully to find easy solutions.”
Considering the progress of the game, Rahul Wani feels that district organizations should be established in at least 60% of the districts in each state where the game is played. These organizations should organize exhibition matches, training camps for Pickleball in their respective districts.
“What I have found is that, the state organizations have reached only 10% of the districts. As an incentive for registering district associations, AIPA should organize National Inter District Pickleball competition at all-India level for registered districts. District associations should be given affiliation in states where state organizations have not established and registered. Then the recognized district associations should unite and form their state organization.”
The way Rahul Wani is thinking about the development is the perfect way to reach the grassroot level. Districts are always places to search talents as so many talented players are hidden in our small towns and villages. As Pickleball is not an expensive sport, therefore it will be easier to reach people from various strata of Indian society. But for that another thing is very important- easy access to paddles and balls at a minimal cost.
“The development of the game will then be accelerated. It will be best if Indian sports goods manufacturers make paddles and balls. That will definitely reduce the price and shortage of supply.”
Rahul Wani’s vision should be considered for the betterment of the game in India. We hope that Pickleball clears all boundaries and emerges as a sport ‘for the people, by the people and with the people.’