Thursday, July 18, 2024

Meet India’s Top Carrom Player – World Champion Anthony Maria Irudayam (Exclusive Interview)

Interviewed by – A. Sapna
Written by – A. Sapna, Shubhi Agrawal 
Edited by – Robin Bhuyan (Editor-in-Chief) 
Anthony Maria Irudayam, a native of Chennai is an amazing carrom player who has brought laurels for the country. He has been the World Carrom Champion twice and has also had the prestige of winning the national carrom championship nine times. This honour can be contributed to his never-ending passion for the game to which he dedicated his life ever since he was seventeen.
Considered as India’s top carrom player, Anthony Maria has been honoured by the Arjuna Award which is one of the most prestigious honours for sportspersons in India. He also received the Best International Player Award by the German Carrom Federation. Join us in our chat with him about his journey, contribution to carrom, and more.

During school days, we all play lots of games, but what interested you more in carrom?

In my neighbourhood, almost every household owned a small carrom board, whether they would play or not. Similarly, we had one at home, reflecting the game’s popularity. At a family function, I met Mr. V. Lazar, a former National Champion player, who inspired me. Seeing his trophies and hearing how he got appointed through the sports quota due to carrom, it even fueled my passion further for the game.

In my area, there are around 6 to 7 carrom rooms, with places like Sulai, Chindathiri Pettai, and Vannarpettai having more. Attending a District-level Tournament, I unexpectedly participated in a Blank entry (No-Medal Game) and won. But after that, they added my name to the Medal list, in that list, I saw V. Lazar and S. Dilli (First National Champion from Tamil Nadu). I decided not to play against such veterans and left for home.

Later on, I encountered Kabil Das, a supporter of the sport who sponsored players, and this was pivotal for me. Despite my father’s reluctance, Das persuaded him to let me compete in the sport. Winning a match against a player named Venkatesan in a betting match, boosted my confidence, yet his subsequent victory in the All India tournament challenged me. My father’s stern words about seizing opportunities pushed me to pursue carrom seriously.

Competing at district and state levels, I faced formidable opponents like S. Dilli Anna, and this further help me improve my skills. In 1979, I stood at fourth place in a National level tournament, setting the stage for my journey. Soon after, I was able to secure a job opportunity through S. Lalitha Kumari, another carrom player, and this marked a significant milestone.

Could you share your journey to becoming a world champion and some challenges you faced?

After national tournaments in the late ’70s, I entered the Indo Sri Lanka test series and won my first National Level Championship in 1982. Subsequent victories followed, with notable international participation. Personal setbacks, like losing a daughter in 1990, briefly deterred me, but support from mentors like Bangaru Babu and Anandhan kept me going. In 1991, I clinched my first World Championship Trophy, which was the most impactful moment of my career.

Many federations for carrom sports exist such as Chennai District Carrom Association, Tamil Nadu Carrom Association, and National All India and Asia Championship, founded by Bangaru Babu, who is popularly known as ‘Father of Carrom’ worldwide. He was the secretary for the International Federation for Carrom. These federations allow one to learn and correct their mistakes in carrom. I met Bangaru Babu, who taught me the importance of sitting position and body movements while playing carrom. Any chess player can move the chess piece if their hand shivers but in case of carrom he cannot pocket his coin. For a carrom player his body and mind control are very important while playing carrom.

Bangaru has observed and played against Lazar and Dilli, so he taught me their way of sitting and body movement while pocketing the coins. Anandhan is a friend of Lazar, he also helped me in teaching his friend’s way of playing carrom. They both were my supporting pillars and were also the reason for my victory, the First World Championship.

Who would you consider your toughest opponent?

Maharashtrian players, particularly Suhas Kambi, posed formidable challenges. Despite tough competitions, my achievements in National and International tournaments speak volumes. Other tough opponents include Nagsen Etambe, Yogesh Pardeshi and Sandeep Deorukhkar.

Carrom is an excellent past time in India. But when it comes to national and international tournaments, why do you think carrom is not taken as seriously as chess or billiards. What do you think is the reason behind this?

Unlike chess and billiards, carrom demands precise body positioning, which might deter some players. For example, if a tall person sits near the board his legs will hit the board and he will never feel comfortable to play sitting and moving their body. This is a reason Asians are very good players in carrom while westerners are not.  Nearly 16 countries conduct carrom tournaments. If you see, the USA has the USA Carrom Open Tournament, where you will see that most of the players are Indians who are settled in the USA. Native people participate but only a few of them. Moreover, while it enjoys international presence, it’s less popular in the West, which impacts its recognition internationally. With more media support and better acknowledgment in educational institutions, its status could improve.

What’s your take on the education system? Do you feel there is more emphasis on academics and sports is often ignored?  

The education system should recognize state and national level players, offering them opportunities in colleges. Despite challenges, recent initiatives and tournaments show promise. However, media support remains crucial for securing a brighter future for carrom. Following the court case, funding for carrom sports from MYAS (Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports) gradually dwindled, coming to a complete halt in November 2022. In 2023, we held another election. AICF secretary, Mrs. Bharti Narayan, has been actively working to petition MYAS for the reinstatement of funding and support for carrom. Since 2022, I have also served as the secretary of the Tamil Nadu Carrom Association. Remarkable changes can been observed in tournament organization, which reminds you of the earlier era when seasoned players dominated.

Recently, AICF and TNCA Madurai organized the Junior Nationals at SRM college. Both boys and girls secured victories in team matches, with individual girls earning national championships. Despite these achievements, there are concerns about the lack of recognition for carrom. Doubts arise regarding potential consequences if support continues to fade, jeopardizing the future of the sport. While we share our challenges and stories in interviews, media coverage remains very low. Increased support from the media is essential to propel carrom tpwards a brighter future.

How do you envision technology impacting indoor games?

Overreliance on gadgets such as mobile phones can detract from the benefits of physical play, affecting skill development and concentration. Children who play a lot on their phones will struggle a lot to catch up to win the game in a physical game.  Encouraging physical play fosters better cognitive and motor skills in children, ensuring a more holistic development.

What’s the future of carrom in India?

With support from authorities and growing talent across states, the future of carrom looks promising. Several initiatives can be seen to nurture young talent and elevate the sport’s status. Continued efforts in this direction can propel carrom to new heights in the country.

What are some interesting stories or challenges you faced in your journey with carrom?

One significant challenge was during the 1980s when there were no regular national tournaments until 1991. This lack of consistent competitive platforms made it difficult to maintain momentum and visibility in the sport. Additionally, personal setbacks, like the loss of my daughter in 1990, tested my resilience and dedication to carrom. However, the unwavering support from mentors, such as Bangaru Babu and Anandhan, kept me focused on my goals.

Another interesting aspect of my journey was encountering players from different regions, each with their unique playing styles and strategies. Facing off against tough opponents like Suhas Kambi and Nagsen Etambe challenged me to continuously refine my skills and adapt to varying playing conditions.

Moreover, the journey to becoming a world champion was not without its moments of doubt and uncertainty. However, the support from fellow players, mentors, and the broader carrom community instilled in me the confidence to persevere and ultimately achieve my goals.

Would you share anything about your upcoming plans in this sport?

Bangaru Babu started his Bangaru Babu Carrom Academy to train the players and I have started Maria’s International Carrom Academy. We planned to join together in the future, to support and build the upcoming players to better standards by selecting the players under 14 and train them to be a better champion. He has these ideas and I decided to support him as well.

In 2013, unfortunately, Bangaru Babu had a stroke, and he is still recovering. So, we still have this idea to support and upbring the better players.

What is your advice to new players?

Players who decide to take up a sport seriously should play them with passion. Secondly, players should always remember their coach who stood with them from the beginning to end. Then, sports players should never have any expectations – parents who should never motivate their kids based on money or by drawing limitations in playing. Nowadays, players aren’t playing with passion and dedication. So, parents are the ones who should encourage their children by saying they should become a better player like Lazar or Dilli in carrom. Many young players are coming out but due to lack of acknowledgment in educational institutions, players shift their mind towards making money!

We thank you for your time! It was a pleasure talking to you!

Thank you!

 

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