One of the earliest Grandmasters and the first Indian to win the Commonwealth Chess Championship, Praveen Thipsay is quite optimistic about the future of Indian sport. However, he feels that the hard-core professional approach in sport is gradually devaluing the essence of Olympism. Here are some excerpts from his exclusive talk with Sportsavour.
The journey has to start……
Praveen Thipsay: I remember the time when we used to play for joy with desi rules, no books, no worldly information and some moments of utmost satisfaction. It was around this time I read a newspaper article about an upcoming inter-school chess tournament at YMCA, Mumbai. I went to my PT teacher in school and asked him to send me for the tournament. But he refused right away.
It was then my mother stepped in and talked to the Principal about sending me to the tournament on behalf of the school. It was in 1971; as far as I remember; and at that time, sport was not at all a priority. The Principal also denied my mother’s appeal as he wanted his students to concentrate more on academics. However, my mother was quite stubborn in this matter and decided to change my school.
It was then, in the middle of the session, I was admitted to Dadasaheb Rege’s Balmohan Vidyamandir, one of the top-notch schools in academics that prioritized sports as well. My younger brother, who played along with me, also got admission in that school.
The YMCA tournament was quite near and we both went to play there. I didn’t win at the first time, but emerged champion in the following years. My younger brother, Satish Thipsay became the inter-school champion after I passed out. He won the National Sub Junior in 1976, couple of months before I became the Junior National Champion. So this is how it started for us and we were lucky to get immense support from our family and school. But unfortunately, for millions of children, this journey doesn’t start and they remain in oblivion.
Striking a balance between academics and sport….
Praveen Thipsay: At that time, sport was a way of life. We played, we studied and did all other things required to lead a healthy and happy life. I was a Junior National Champion, won a bronze medal in Asian Junior but became a National Champion only after finishing my post graduation. I could have gone for a job in a multi-national company or continue my studies; but instead I sought permission from my parents to pursue chess. They gave permission but with a condition that the leniency period would be only for two years.
I think two years were enough for me to prove myself in chess. I became the national champion in 1982 and an International Master the same year. These were enough for my parents to believe that I took the right decision.
We were amateurs, the professional approach came much later…
Praveen Thipsay: When I started playing, sport was for the amateurs. I didn’t earn my bread from there. I did a regular job, came back from office and then I practiced chess. So, it was all about time management. That gave me peace and a sense of satisfaction about a wholesome life.
But things started changing in the western world where sport was getting the professional touch. In chess, the players from Russia and East European block became technically strong and highly competitive. Prize money started to increase, sponsorship poured in and there was an altogether different approach to sport and sportsmanship. Not only chess, in every sport changes started occurring. And perhaps from that time the original values of Olympism- ‘encourage effort’, ‘preserve human dignity’ and ‘develop harmony’ for a better world- started to lose its sheen.
Every change brings a new flavour…
Praveen Thipsay: Indian sport is on the rise. This is quite evident from the recent results in international competitions. It’s an extreme proud moment for us that India is now fourth among the Asian countries. I think the private leagues have played a major role in this. The competitiveness has increased, the players are exposed to state-of-the-art facilities, they get to rub their shoulders with international players etc. So, these are definitely helping in increasing the level of sport in India.
Along with this, the Target Olympics Podium Scheme (TOPS) is a major initiative by the government to provide support to India’s top athletes. The scheme was already prevalent but its nature was different. Earlier, the government used to give (I think) 5 lakh rupees to the deserving candidate after properly checking his/her background. The money was used for coaching and training in India. But the present government does not provide monetary support directly; they reimburse the money spent by the selected candidates during their international exposure trips. This is quite a good scheme as the players are exposed to international tournaments which help them to prepare well.
The federations are also working in tandem with the government. I don’t know about other sports, but in chess the TOPS is used exceptionally well. The deserving candidates are getting it and the reimbursement is done within 4-5 days of placing all the required documents.
There’s always a scope for improvement…
Praveen Thipsay: In this hugely populated country, there are so many untapped talents, many from remote places, who can really flourish. So the grassroot level approach of finding talents has to be more meticulous. There is Khelo India Project to tap those talents. But I think the amount spent in the Khelo India events are exorbitant. The budget of Khelo India is more than that of SAI. If you are tapping children at low level, give them something that is required only. Why spend extra?
Similarly, in the private leagues, high amount of money is spent in accommodation, food etc. This can be cut down and instead coaching camps can be organised. Like, All India Chess Federation conducts a 7-day coaching camp under Indian Grandmasters across many states every year. So, the real ‘deserving and needy’ are highly benefited from this type of initiative.
Another aspect which I think needs to be discussed is, out of lakhs of players very few become champions. So what happens to those who spend the same amount of time and energy like a champion but cannot evolve into one? Yes, there are jobs available in public and government sectors initiated by Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, but I suggest to make them academically strong. The government or the federations should look into this matter and arrange some kind of alternatives for them.
However, let’s try to keep the essence intact…
Praveen Thipsay: In this highly competitive world, I wish the essence of sport does not dilute completely. The ethics of sports should be applied in real life and I feel really hopeful when I find that two of our most competent chess players, R Praggnanandha and Arjun Erigaisi walking on the beach and having dinner together even playing against one another in a tough World Championship match. So this is what sport is all about. Let Olympism prevail….let Olympic Movement never die.