He might not play it, but Arikapudi Ramana Rao still loves and breathes volleyball. Born in 1 July, 1945, the ex Tamil Nadu captain is one of the few persons to have won both the Arjuna Award as well as the Dronacharya award.

Currently he is the secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Volleyball Association and is working really hard to promote volleyball in the state. He believes that the day is not far when India will become a force to reckon with in volleyball. Here is how the conversation went with him:

When you look back at your career, what was the most memorable moment for you as a volleyball player, and also as a coach?

As a player, winning the national volleyball championship for Tamil Nadu on January 1st in 1976 will always be memorable. During the previous years, we had reached the final, but won the championship for the first time in 1976. We had lost the first 2 sets and half the crowd had left. We then came back, and when the news got published in the local papers that we had won, it was quite a surprise for everyone.

As coach, winning a gold medal at the Youth Asian Championship in 2007 and silver at the World Youth Championships in 2003 in Brazil is something which I can never forget. There have been some forgettable moments too, like not qualifying for the senior World Championships seven years ago. We had spent a lot of money and I still feel sad when I think about it.

You are one of the few persons to have won both the Arjuna and Dronacharya awards. How did you feel after winning these two awards?

It was a great achievement for me. It was special because back then, Nayeemuddin and I were the only two persons to have won both awards. After that, many people won, but at that time, it was very special for me.

How would you describe the current scenario of volleyball in India?

I am not happy with the current scenario. We were doing great until 2013, but after that things started falling apart. It all started because of the sudden demise of our beloved president, Dr B Sivanthi Adityan. He was the pillar of Indian volleyball and brought India on par with international standards. Under him, we conducted two junior World Championships in India within a span of 4 years. Nowhere in the world has it ever happened. He was also the executive vice president of the International Volleyball Federation. Under him, we also started the International Volleyball Development Centre in Chennai, with me as director. After his death, there were differences between the president and secretaries, and this caused the game and players to suffer. There are many pending court cases, and this is one of the main reasons for the downfall of volleyball in India.

Why is it that despite having a population of 132 crore, we are still unable to produce world-class talent?

The population is 132 crore, but how many people really participate in sports? The sport participation is very less in this country. When participation increases, competition will increase; and when competition increases, our standards will increase. Only then, we will be able to get the desired results. The mindset of parents also needs to change. They shouldn’t focus only on studies. The first duty of parents and teachers should be to identify the talent of the child. They shouldn’t impose their decisions on their child.

Despite winning silver at the 2003 World Youth Championship, we couldn’t carry this momentum forward. What was the reason?

2003 was a very good time for Indian volleyball. I was national coach at that time and for the World Championships, we planned everything in advance. We had coaches from abroad and also conducted training camps, consisting of 3 sessions every day. Each session lasted a minimum of 3 hours. There used to be training sessions with senior players, and also with other European and Latin American nations. This was the groundwork which we did for the World Youth Championship. After the event, the motivation of players decreased as they got jobs. In order to get results, the players need international exposure which is lacking at the senior level. Despite all this, some players still continue but lack financial funding. This leads to a lot of misunderstanding between the management and players.

As secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Volleyball Association, what plans do you have for volleyball in this state?

I want to promote the club system in Andhra Pradesh. I want to make sure that every unofficial club gets affiliation from the Andhra Pradesh Volleyball Association. Leagues will be conducted in association with the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh. I want to create an entire database with information about each and every club. Inter-club championships will be organised on a regular basis.

What is your opinion on the Indian Volleyball League?

For many years, it was embroiled in controversy, with so many court cases pending. It was supposed to start in 2016, but there was a lot of internal turmoil within the national federation, and this led to 2 years of precious time being lost. I hope the league starts this year because if it does, it will help in improving a lot of players in our country.

What do you think is the future of volleyball in this country?

The future is very bright, but in order to get the results, we need proper talent. We are not as tall and healthy as European and Latin American players. First, we need to find the appropriate players and provide them with proper nutrition and training. If we do this, there is nothing stopping us from becoming world beaters.

What message would you like to give to younger players of this country?

The younger generation should have higher goals and big dreams. Their dreams shouldn’t be restricted to representing school or college, but they should be thinking about winning medals for the country. One more thing they should do is to be dedicated towards their dream. I just want them to follow the three D’s — desire, dedication and discipline — and they can achieve anything.

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