From the tight control of the Army over the federation to the lack of sponsors, the sport faces many challenges to its growth in India.
New Delhi: One of India’s unexpected success stories at the Asian Games in Jakarta was Fouaad Mirza in equestrian events. Not only did he help the country win a silver medal in team eventing, but also secured India’s first individual silver in the sport since 1982.
Mirza’s performance helped the sport have its moment in the sun after decades of living in the shadow of the Indian Army, which, like most militaries around the world, dominates this sport. The Quartermaster-General (QMG) of the Army, in fact, automatically becomes president of the Equestrian Federation of India.
While the Army has undoubtedly nurtured the sport, there have often been reports that its dominance has kept equestrian out of civilians’ reach. Allegations and controversies have plagued officials constantly.
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An example of this came in 2009, when Zoravar Thiara, 11 years old at the time, alleged that the Junior National Equestrian Championship where he was participating had been judged unfairly. Thiara took the case to Punjab and Haryana High Court, which then issued notices to the EFI.
Thiara, who had already won several national and international medals, had alleged that he was awarded the silver medal in the championship as the gold medal winner’s father Lt Col. D. Bali was a member of the panel judging the event.
The federation later clarified that it had overlooked this aspect, and Bali’s scores weren’t taken into account for his son, but it was just the sort of incident that has given rise to the notion that the sport is a cosy club for the Army.
Expert hands needed
Experienced players in the sport believe that the time has come for it to be taken over by experts. A prominent ex-player, on the condition of anonymity, said: “Since it was a sport started by the Army, and the complete organisation and federation was set up by the Army, it was appropriate at that time for the Army to administer it. But QMGs are not well-versed with the sport; the federation needs a full-time well-versed equestrian expert to head it in order to take the sport forward.”
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Lt Gen. A.J. Singh, one of the vice-presidents of the EFI, agreed that some diversification is needed.
“The sport needs to be adopted by the mainstream if it has to grow. We can’t be forever dependent on the Army,” he said.
Apart from the army control, the sport also faces issues such as lack of infrastructure, in terms of coaches, equipments and stables. Experienced players believe more organised competitions at the school and college level can help grow the sport exponentially, and also solve the problem of sponsors, which are essential for future successes in the sport.