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Vol. XXXIII No. 16, December 1-15, 2023

Rowing in Tamil Nadu

-- by V. Venkataramana

It was 150 years ago that the erstwhile state of Madras saw the beginning of a legacy in Rowing, with the birth of the Madras Boat Club at Ennore. With the sport demanding expensive infrastructure – namely boats and unpolluted, expansive water bodies – Rowing was patronized largely by the British community in Madras. It became a competitive sport among Britishers employed at various English companies that organized regattas to pit their rowing prowess against each other. Soon, an Annual Regatta came to be organised by rowing clubs across India and the competition was titled the Amateur Rowing Association of the East. The Madras Boat Club was well-equipped to host the Annual Regatta, which ran on two lanes. The Annual Regatta was the most prestigious event to win in the Indian Rowing scene until the National Championship (run on 4 lanes) was born. The sport continued to develop on a national scale with youth actively flocking to rowing. The State Association for the sport in Tamil Nadu came into being in the mid-70s, with an aim to grow the sport uniformly. This inspired similar developments in Maharashtra, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, ­Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. These States came together to form the Rowing Federation of India even as the country prepared to host the first Asian Games in Delhi. Rowing went on to be introduced as one of the sports at the Delhi Asian Games. Sadly, the development of Rowing in Tamil Nadu has not been quite smooth. Madras Musings spoke to the President of the Tamil Nadu Amateur Rowing Association, Balaji Maradapa (a rower at the National and International levels himself) and Bhaskar Reddy, a Rowing coach who is taking the lead in nurturing young Rowing talent in TN.

Hyderabad: Prethusha (back row, middle), winner of the Gold medal in Women Singles Scull. With her are Mrs. Rajalaxmi Singh Deo – President of the Rowing Federation of India and Balaji Maradapa – President of Tamil Nadu Amateur ­Rowing ­Association.

“In Tamil Nadu, there is a lot of Rowing talent at the Sub-Junior level, but hardly any at the Junior and Senior levels. It is possible that this is the case due to a lack of support from the Government for the sport. Rowing has limited access. The cost of the boats, oars and safety equipment such as a follow boat can be quite prohibitory. Additionally, they are all import items and their duty is listed in the luxury items category, making them even more expensive. However, the present Government has promised the Association that it would set up a full-fledged Rowing Centre. The National Federation has also been urging the Central Government to reduce the GST on Rowing equipment,” said Balaji and Bhaskar. There is much improvement to be made regarding the availability of good, basic facilities for Rowing. Balaji pointed out that a Rowing Centre at picturesque Kodaikanal Lake – the only high-altitude centre in India – remains shut due to issues between the local club and municipal authorities. Bhaskar added that the State Rowing Association is urging the State Government to re-start the facility, which would give a big boost to Rowing in the State and surrounding districts. The State Association has also identified other suitable Rowing Courses in the outskirts of Chennai city, and has given several representations to the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu (SDATN). The administrative body has given its assurance that the request would be looked into. The National Federation has also pledged its support for this initiative as it will be ideal to conduct National as well as International Rowing competitions. 

Despite a rather bleak current scenario, the world-class Water Sports Centre at the Sri Ramachandra Medical University at Porur shines as a ray of hope. With a dedicated coach in Bhaskar and the implementation of a scientific training program, the Centre has already produced a handful of talented rowers representing the State in the Senior National Championships. “We can say that this Centre is the nursery of Rowing in Tamil Nadu,” smiled Balaji. The future of Indian Rowing is “very bright,” said the duo, with as many as 26 states, Army and Navy Sports Control Boards and All-India Universities taking part in the National Championships. As for Tamil Nadu, support from the State Government could propel it to great heights in Rowing. “If the State Government lives up to its avowed objective of focusing on the development of sports infrastructure, then Tamil Nadu can produce champion rowers,” said Balaji. Some of the TN-based talents in the sport are Jothipandi, Gopi Ananth, Tarun Vikraman, Naveen, Vijay and Rose Meril Mastica. Rose, notably, was the reserve rower in the Indian team at the recently concluded Asian Games in China. In fact, with Coastal Rowing to be introduced at the Los Angeles Olympics, there are chances for Tamil Nadu to emerge at the forefront of the sport. “Tamil Nadu has a long coastline. If we can get Coastal Rowing started in the State with the support of the State Government, we can make a head start and produce champions who can garner international honours,” said the pair.

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  1. Ramu says:

    I thought the Madras Boat Club was in Adayar not Ennore.

    • Murthy says:

      It was started in Ennore later shifted to Long Tank Teynampet later to Adyar.

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