The suspension of rowing in the Rabindra Sarobar in south Kolkata has cast a cloud of uncertainty on West Bengal’s participation in an upcoming national tournament in Kashmir.
The Sub-Junior National Rowing Championships and the Inter-State Challenger National Rowing Championships will be held concurrently in the picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar from June 20 to 26. While the first one is for Under-15 rowers, the challenger is an open tournament.
The final contingent that will represent West Bengal in the championships cannot be decided without selection trials, which cannot be held for now because of the ban on rowing in the Rabindra Sarobar.
“We were supposed to send the final list of participants and coaches and other team members to the organisers by June 5. We had requested them to extend the deadline by a week. The Rowing Federation of India has granted time till June 12. But even then, there is a lot of uncertainty,” said Anirudhha Mookerjee, secretary, West Bengal Rowing Association.
The Rabindra Sarobar is the only rowing course in West Bengal, for practice and tournaments. On May 21, two teenage rowers drowned in the lake after their boat, and many other boats, toppled during a fierce Nor'wester.
All rowing activities in the Lake have been suspended till police draw up a list of standard operating procedures in consultation with the disaster management group, a meeting at Lalbazar decided last Friday.
Budding rowers who were looking forward to representing their state, some of them for the first time, said they wanted to get back to the waters.
Participating in a national-level tournament without sufficient practice made no sense, they said.
Ridhima Radhakrishnan, 16, who has been rowing for a little over a year, was keenly looking forward to the selection trials. She had been practising for the double sculls category of the challengers.
“My partner has been rowing for four years. I was looking forward to matching up with her and taking part in my first nationals," said Ridhima, who practises at the Bengal Rowing Club.
Ritsika Das, who practises at the Calcutta Rowing Club, is also disheartened. Rowing for three years now, Ritsika was also a contender in the double sculls category.
“She had been practising hard for the tournament. She looked promising in practice sessions, according to the trainers. But I can understand the importance of safety protocols, especially after the accident (on May 21),” said her father, Rabindra Nath Das.
The rowers have been working on ergometers (indoor rowing machines) for now. “But there is no substitute to practising in the water,” said Devang Shah, who had won gold in the double sculls category in the last edition of the sub-junior nationals in Pune in 2019.
The sub-juniors, in its 23rd edition, is being organised for the first time after the pandemic.
“Bengal has done traditionally well in sub-junior nationals and the challengers. We were hoping for medals this time as well,” said an official of Bengal Rowing Club.
Officials of the rowing association said the three clubs — Bengal Rowing Club, Calcutta Rowing Club and Lake Club — have been asked to send nominations for the tournament but only after securing consent from the parents.
“The clubs have not sent any nominations yet,” said an official.
Parents of rowers had a meeting with the officials of one of the clubs on Sunday morning. “We have shortlisted some names on the basis of that but nothing is final yet,” said an official of the club, who requested anonymity
The state rowing association is mulling to conduct the trials in the Water Sports Complex of the Sports Authority of India in Odisha’s Jagatpur, near Cuttack.
“But there is a cost element. Taking a large number of rowers to Odisha is easier said than done,” said another official.
An initial list, sent to the organisers of the upcoming tournament by the association, had over 40 members in the West Bengal contingent.