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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Know Your City: Skate, Dribble, Goal! Roll Ball, the indigenous sport from Pune

🔴 Played between two teams on roller skates, the game is a unique mix of basketball, handball and throwball. Developed by Raju Dabhade, the sport is played in over 50 countries today.

Written by Ruchika Goswamy | Pune |
Updated: January 8, 2022 6:25:03 pm
Played between two teams on roller skates, the game is a unique mix of basketball, handball and throwball in which the objective is to score the most goals within a stipulated time.

The April of 2011 saw an overwhelming attendance of people of all age groups at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex. For 33-year-old Chetan Bhandwalkar, it was a proud moment to sport the Indian jersey at the opening ceremony of the first Roll Ball World Cup in an arena packed with a cheering audience. “It is a moment of pride for a sportsperson to get to represent his country… I remember the day like it was yesterday, there was a banner by a spectator which read ‘Cricket bole to Tendulkar, Roll Ball bole to Bhandwalkar’. To be compared to a legend was one of the most gratifying feelings I have had,” he said.

Bhandwalkar, who is now the general secretary of the Roll Ball Federation of India (RBFI), said not many get to see a sport develop from its nascent stage and be a part of its evolution and its future, but he got it all from Roll Ball.

Played between two teams on roller skates, the game is a unique mix of basketball, handball and throwball in which the objective is to score the most goals within a stipulated time. Today, the indigenous sport from Pune, developed by Raju Dabhade, is played in over 50 countries across five continents. Yet, it remains in the shadows when it comes to acquiring funds and getting due recognition for players.

How the ball got rolling

Dabhade, who is now the Secretary General of the International Roll Ball Federation (IRBF), recounted, “Around 2001, I was a physical education teacher with Bal Shikshan Mandir English Medium School, Kothrud. I routinely conducted evening sessions for roller skating and during one such session, a stray basketball from a nearby court interrupted our practice. One of my students dribbled the ball for a while before returning it. This small incident planted the idea for the game.”

While he incorporated roller skates and a ball, the game still lacked structure and rules. Dabhade buried himself in the rule books of various sports, picking a few rules from basketball, handball and throwball, and tried out the amalgamation.

“Roller skating was the prerequisite skill for the sport and, hence, I first introduced the game to my students. Together, we played the new game of Roll Ball. Apart from having fun during our practices, the trials helped me mould the sport into what it is today,” Dabhade added.

The first Asian championships were held in 2010 and the very next year India hosted the first Roll Ball World Cup in Pune with participation from 16 countries.

“Raju (Dabhade) sir was my roller-skating teacher and I was among the first players of Roll Ball. While the novelty of the sport intrigued many, it also faced its share of misgivings. Surprisingly, it was the fraternity itself which believed that it was not a serious sport and that it wouldn’t survive for long. We did not let it get to us. As players of an entirely new sport, we as well as our families had full faith in Raju sir and the game of Roll Ball,” said Bhandwalkar.

The first national Roll Ball team in 2011.

On February 2, 2003, Roll Ball conducted its maiden match as a demonstration for the Sports Authority of India and was recognised as an official sport. “Our next step was to take the sport beyond the city,” said Dabhade.

The new sport in town

Roll Ball is played on either a hard surface or ice and each team consists of 12 players – six on the field and six in reserve. The players are expected to dribble the ball repeatedly and the ball is held in one or both hands, when passed to the other players. The game generally is of two halves of 25 minutes each, with a 10-minute rest in between. Currently, Roll Ball is held in U-11, U-14, U-17 and senior categories for both men and women.

“We conducted demo matches in roller skating academies in different states as well as our neighbouring countries. We also held workshops for coaches to help them understand the nuances of the sport and build a stronger ecosystem for it to develop. Between 2003-04, we also had friendly exhibition matches with Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan to introduce Roll Ball to their skating teams,” Dabhade recollected.

The first Asian championships were held in 2010 and the very next year India hosted the first Roll Ball World Cup in Pune with participation from 16 countries. Denmark emerged as the winner, while India secured the runner-up position. “It was a milestone day for Roll Ball as a sport as it not only had become an international game but also had an exponential growth in just a matter of years. It showed how much potential Roll Ball held in becoming a household name among sports in India,” Bhandwalkar pointed out.

SAI Director S Harmilap, Project Officer M S Taygi and Raju Dabhade with the players.

Aditya Ganeshwade, captain of the Indian Roll Ball team since 2017, said the sport was modified after the first World Cup. “In a match with Belgium, I was tackled by a player from the back. In any other sport like football or basketball, it is easier to counter such an attack where one of their hands is trying to pry the ball from your hand. In the case of Roll Ball, however, there is an increased chance of the player losing his/her balance. It was not a foul back then, but it is now… The World Cup was the first proper international competition with several participating teams, it helped us identify issues and amend the rules. The new rules have refined the game, retaining the adrenaline rush and the entertaining factor for the spectators in the stadium,” Ganeshwade said.

The Roll Ball World Cup has since been held every two years till 2019, with India as the current reigning champion among men while Kenya holds the top spot among women. Among other achievements, on May 18, 2018, a world record was awarded to the RBFI and IRBF for the largest Roll Ball lesson with 309 participants in Karnataka.

To keep it going

At only 27, Ganeshwade has been world champion in the sport for four consecutive years with a total of 21 national and international medals. “I might just be the only player who has achieved such a feat. Yet, the recognition for Roll Ball players is very minimal. I have been nominated for the prestigious Arjuna Award five times now… You see, when players in a particular sport are acknowledged for their efforts towards the game, more players will get associated. It also helps with factors such as sponsorship, recognition for the sport, etc,” he said.

Bhandwalkar explained that even though Roll Ball is a new indigenous sport, it has been almost two decades since its inception and not much has been done to strengthen its infrastructure.

“From thousands of initial players, we now have about 3.5 lakh players across age groups and genders who play the game in India. We saw a boom in the sport between 2008-15 during the World Cup held in Dhaka in which 52 countries took part. While these facts illustrate the success of Roll Ball in the global sphere, when it comes to funds, infrastructure and exposure on the local front, we are far behind. It should be a matter of extreme pride that it is such a skilled and technical native sport but it cannot stay afloat without the required support from the state and the Centre,” he said.

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