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Money scores,American football lures Indian rugby players

Indian rugby is losing players,not to injury or retirement,but to the American football.

Written by Shivani Naik | Mumbai |
July 18, 2011 2:56:18 am

Indian rugby is losing players,not to injury or retirement,but to the clunkier-looking American football — the Elite Football League of India (EFLI) — that is cleaving through rugby’s rank and file,as players and coaches alike are approached with the lure of money.

A large number of current players,including some top India internationals like Delhi’s Amit Lochab,have confirmed enlisting even as eight teams were announced recently for an American football league to be played across India in 2012.

Four established rugby development officers,including India’s former assistant coach Shailesh Deorukhkar,besides Pritom Roy,M Thimmaiah and former Calcutta Cricket and Football Club coach Mukhtar Alam,have attended the EFLI training camps.

With EFLI contracts offering a substantial monthly income — Rs 25,000 to a lakh upward — ruggers and coaches,who claim to be paid a fraction of that for rugby,are in a dilemma.

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Indian rugby captain Nasser Hussain admits to being anxious about the development.

“We have a couple of worries,” he said,adding,“but American football is a contact sport and very expensive. We’ve tried getting Indians here to play rugby sevens,and we know how tough it is for anyone to take a liking to a contact sport. American football will need at least 15 players in a team,and it will be a daunting task to get those numbers. However,I agree rugby will struggle to compete with American football’s money might,and we won’t even try.”

A rumoured clause in the EFLI contract bars players from playing any other sport,and the Indian Rugby Football Union (IRFU) will soon discuss if they ought to respond in kind.

Others point out that what’s happening in Indian rugby isn’t something unique to the sport. Paul Walsh,a former British diplomat and current coach of Kolkata rugby side Jungle Crows,says this happened to rugby in England over 100 years ago. The split is legendary in northwest of England,where he comes from,as it led to the formation of two codes.

“To put it simply,some players started to get paid to play and they went over to the other side promoting professional sport,while the elite and affluent southern England rugby clubs clung to the high morals of amateurism.” They could afford to,he adds pointedly.

In India too,like the working-class northerners of England who took to the professional set-up of Rugby League,those who have accepted EFLI offers for American football are players belonging to the lower-middle income group — boys from Delhi’s neighbouring villages and ruggers reared by the Kolkata charity shelters.

Taking the place of the southern elite of England who hung on to the Rugby Union are rugby players from Bombay Gymkhana and Calcutta Cricket and Football Club (CCFC),who are anxious to prevent any defections but conscious of the brazen muscle of American money.

“It’s not nice and rather unfortunate and short-sighted of the EFLI to poach rugby development officers this way,” says Walsh. However,with the advantage of history behind him,he adds: “We should try to be positive and not feel threatened. If our players can earn some money when not playing rugby and they get to play a professional sport and actually get paid for playing a sport,we shouldn’t complain. We can’t get scared,we need to leverage this for the benefit of sportsmen.”

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