The truth be told, it takes a lot to popularize a sport in a nation like India. Interest, investment, advertisement, facilities, and the likes need to be increased heavily in order to allow a sport to succeed at a big stage. This has sadly not been the case for Fencing in India. Bhavani Devi must be given due credit for all that she has done to represent India. Fencing came to the limelight with her qualification and this moment of glory must not be lost, both for her and the sport itself. But the major issue at hand is the implementation of ideas to enhance the sport.
The Current State of Affairs
A simple google search on 'Fencing in India' does yield surprising results. The first official organization for Fencing was constituted in 1974 and has been functioning in an official capacity since then. There are a few articles on coaching centers across India located in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and of course Manipur. There are also stories of how the dearth of facilities is a big problem in certain centers with fencers having to share equipment amongst each other. For those not acquainted with the sport, the surprising news is that there are several fencing centers across the country that train children regularly. The sport is no longer confined to those who are able to afford it based on their monetary situation in life. Why then has India had to wait 125 years before qualifying for Fencing for the first time?
Adequate Investment and Attention
Ironically, sword fighting duels go way back in time and are also an integral part of several communities around India. With time, they have been sidelined into more compulsive traditions and the Indian martial artists have also been ignored for all the talent they possess. Development of such sports has hence been stalled due to a paucity of knowledge and efforts to bring fame to the game. Fencing too has a similar issue regarding developing the eagerness and talent of youngsters who have taken up the sport. Bhavani Devi has led the way in showing how adequate funding and support(credit to the Go Sports Foundation) along with sufficient chances to compete can go a long way in ensuring Indian representation in 'unpopular sports'. Going back to the day she qualified for the Olympics, her name and more importantly Fencing's name was plastered all over the news. But the need of the hour is to work upon this achievement and never stop. Celebrating a qualification in a sport after more than 100 years is not something a country like India can afford to do. Equipment and facilities need to complement the fame of the sport and while there have been plans to enhance Fencing facilities, it needs to be highly prioritized on behalf of the government. The process needs to be streamlined so that it directly benefits those who train actively.
The Italian Youth Model
Fencing in Italy is an extremely popular sport and the country has a total of 48 Gold Medallists from this sport alone. The emphasis in Italy is to promote the sport with a great youth setup that helps segregate players with a regulated ranking system to adhere to. There are 4 age groups within which rankings are decided. It includes 11-14, 15-19, 15 above, and then 24 above. The important aspect to note here is that anyone above the age group of 15 can be considered for the Olympics and international tournaments at the senior level. Skills are honed through experience at a high level as the age groups a mix up of different competitors and this is exactly how Italy has produced fencing legends year after year. A takeaway for India can be the incorporation of this kind of system that allows for regular and healthy competitions and not just one odd Senior and Junior National Championship. A combination of competing at senior levels beginning from an age at which fencers are mature enough to compete is the need of the hour of those craving experience. It is a phenomenal system that has worked wonders for Italy, and can definitely help India and its several avid fencers across the country.
India needs to do more for fencers like Bhavani Devi coming through to represent India. For too long have sportspersons relied on the inadequacy of the government and administration to provide them with facilities that rarely ever materialize. Promises have been made for decades but until they transpire, the sport needs the attention it deserves. Bhavani Devi has brought us to the first half of the long-drawn journey that India must traverse in fencing. It is up to the rest of the country to carry it forward.