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The Hindu: Bawa to get Dronacharya award in hockey (8/20/2019)
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The Hindu: Bawa to get Dronacharya award in hockey

Nandakumar Marar

His forte is talent-spotting, giving exposure to young players at Republicans teams. The Dronacharya award (lifetime category) conferred on Merzban Patel by the Union Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sport, took Vile Parle-based Bawa, as he is popularly called in hockey circles, by surprise. “I have not chased awards and was not aware that work done by me to promote hockey at the local level is being noticed by national sports administrators.”

The awards ceremony is in New Delhi on August 29, hockey genius Dhyan Chand’s birthday, celebrated as National Sports Day in memory of a player who put Indian hockey on the world map.

Mr. Patel (68) is co-founder of Bombay Republicans Club (launched on Republic Day by the late B.K. Mohite), which participates in Mumbai tournaments and the local league. He also introduced hockey at the Children’s Academy (Malad) and the school team competes in inter-school tournaments.

Without a formal degree or diploma in hockey coaching, his forte is talent-spotting and giving exposure to young players at the Republicans teams. It earned him tremendous respect in every corner of the nation where hockey is popular. The highest award by the Sports Ministry is only recognition of selfless work by an individual donning multiple roles.

Mr. Patel said, “Coaching is not limited to guiding the players on the ground. Spotting talent early, giving them a chance to train and compete, teaching them discipline, keeping in touch with parents to know the situation at home and handle their children accordingly, and pushing them to keep in touch with studies are also part of coaching.”

Mr. Patel is also known to give Republicans kids a tongue-lashing when he senses they are losing concentration due to distractions. “Scolding is part of my nature and kids accept it as there is no other motive except to make them focussed on hockey,” he said. Other coaches attached to bigger clubs in the city, and private and public sector teams across India recruit talent hand-picked by the Mumbai mentor on stipends or contract, while many ex-Republicans players have gone on to represent India at the highest level (junior & senior India, junior World Cup & men’s World Cups, the Asian Games, and the Olympic Games).

“Forget the World Cuppers, the Olympians, and internationals for a while, it is the many amateur Republicans players now paid to play hockey, who make my effort worthwhile,” he said.

The oil companies, railway units, and the Armed forces recruit hockey players on contracts or employment basis. Promotions are linked to India selection for prestigious international competitions. India goalkeeper Suraj Karkera is the latest schoolboy from Bombay Republicans to aspire for the national colours. “He is from Children’s Academy and after playing for us, joined the Army unit, Bombay Engineering Group. I hope he is chosen for a World Cup, the Olympic Games, or Asian Games,” said Mr. Patel, whose team player Devinder Walmiki represented India at the 2016 Rio Olympics in men’s hockey.

Mr. Walmiki’s elder brother, Yuvraj, is a World Cupper, and both help out the Republicans co-founder by coaching kids at the Mumbai Hockey Association Limited turf, Churchgate. “Republicans players who have made a mark in Indian hockey have responded to my request to guide the boys and pass on latest techniques learnt in national camps.”

Age is taking its toll and Mr. Patel, a bachelor married to hockey, passed the baton of club management to Conroy Remedios, one-time hockey student under the mentor and employed with Mumbai Customs.

Mr. Patel, honoured with the Shiv Chhatrapati sports award by the Maharashtra government last year, hopes his deputy will be able to make the journey to New Delhi for the national sports awards ceremony. “I hope Bombay Republicans players will be there when the award is presented. Many are busy with tournaments; some are away in club leagues abroad; others are busy with work. Calls and messages keep coming; I don’t know how to react.”

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