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Vol. XXXIII No. 19, January 16-31, 2024

Carrom: growth ‘minus’ since 2009

-- by V. Venkataramana

Carrom’s growth in Chennai from a mere pastime to a serious international sport can be credited to the monumental efforts of one Bangaru Babu, a player, and one might argue the Godfather, of the game. Fondly known as Mr. Carrom in the state’s sporting circles, Bangaru popularised serious Carrom on the premise that, much like chess, it requires skill, finesse, critical thinking, and sharp mind-body coordination. To pocket a coin – white, black, or red – a good player must judge the position of the target and its relative angle to the pocket and flick the striker with measured force.

It was in 1948 that Bangaru Babu took seriously to the sport; the following year, he, along with a group of fellow players, resolved to make Carrom an organised sport. They built on the fact that the sport was already popular in Chennai, especially in North Madras. The team wished to form a State-Level Association to achieve their aim. And so, the Madras State Carrom Association (MSCA) was born in January 1954. The President was S. Venkatesan, a former Deputy Mayor of Madras and a wealthy businessman; the Secretary was Carrom enthusiast R.S. Cunniah, who was then running a Carrom club called United Youth Association. The new body was also served by two Vice Presidents, a Joint Secretary and a Treasurer. Individual members of MSCA included roughly 19 Carrom clubs, then the backbone of the sport in the region.

Bangaru Babu’s relentless efforts went on to nurture the growth of Carrom. In 1951, MSCA conducted the first League Championship in the sport; the first State-level tournament followed in 1954. Women began to compete in the State championships in 1959.

Soon, players were given rankings and the first six were sent to participate in the Nationals. The All India Carrom Federation came into being in 1956. Bangaru Babu served as the Secretary of MSCA in 1957 and undertook efforts to grow the sport in other Indian states and overseas, too. Tamil Nadu emerged as a veritable powerhouse of Carrom talent – S. Dilli Babu rose to become the National Champion in 1972, 1974, and 1976; V. Lazar won the honour in 1977. A shining talent followed in the form of Anthony Maria Irudayam, the only Carrom player to have been awarded an Arjuna Award and presently the Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Carrom Association. He toppled the then National Champion Suhas Kumble in 1982 and went on to win a record nine titles in 1999. He has lost only three finals in the Nationals. Anthony’s unmatched accomplishments in the sport garnered him employment in Indian Airlines.

And so, despite a lack of sponsorship or funds, things were quite rosy for the sport for some time. Talent burgeoned among women players too; notable among them were D. Yuvrani, D. Sharmila (who won three national titles between 1998 and 2000), D. Swarnalatha and Ilavazhagi.

In the ‘60s, Babu focused his efforts on gaining recognition for Carrom as an international sport. USA, Australia, UK, Mauritius, Ireland, Singapore, Malaysia, and Singapore began to import Carrom equipment.

An exhibition match between the wonderfully talented Dilli and Lazar at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi won interest from Japan, Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia. Babu’s extraordinary efforts succeeded and the International Carrom Federation was formed in Chennai. The city’s own player Maria won two world titles while Ilavazhagi bagged the World Cup. Carrom gained the recognition of the Sports Council of India in 1977 and that of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) in 1999.

However, Carrom has seen a consistent dip since 2009, the year when Bangaru retired as a sports administrator in deference to a strict rule that barred such service beyond eight years.

Maria Irudayam, who was elected the TNCA Secretary earlier this year, says that the biggest problem is the lack of sponsors. Former administrator Ravi Kumar David points out that grants for the development of the sport could enable the organisation of District, National, and International competitions; he also adds the development of infrastructure is also a need of the hour, especially in coaching – the establishment of district Carrom halls such as the ones at Chennai Nehru Stadium, he says, will enable the nurturing of young talent right up to the international level.

Ilavazhagi is presently making an effort to reinvigorate the sport with husband Sakthivel, former player and present Joint Secretary of the Tamil Nadu Carrom Association. Speaking to Madras Musings, Sakthivel said that he has set up a Carrom hall at Perambur, where boys and girls are free to learn the sport irrespective of economic status or gender.

Chennai can take pride that it is home to stalwarts of the sport such as Bangaru Babu, who have put the city on Carrom’s international map. With a renewed focus on sports in the state, it is hoped that Carrom will receive its due, too. Carrom administrations must become a part of the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu. A bright future awaits in the form of undiscovered talent; the city only has to take forward the splendid service of its passionate players.

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