Volleyball was nowhere near the level of popularity of other sports in India a few years back. After the inception of the Prime Volleyball League, the sport was rescued from the depths of obscurity and pushed into the limelight.
Kolkata Thunderbolts' libero Hari Prasad agrees on this front. Moreover, the Karnataka lad's hometown now is more aware of the sport and the locals even ask Prasad about his match's timings!
"In my village, nobody knew about me or that I have represented India. It was after I received the Ekalavya Award last year that my hometown started to recognise me and become more aware about volleyball," the player told The Bridge.
Apart from making the sport popular, the league has also provided lucrative opportunities to many young players, who in the past didn't have such choices.
"PVL is good for the young players. For the longest time, many struggled to make a living out of the sport. For them, PVL is the perfect platform. The thing I like the most about PVL is that players get an identity," Hari added.
Jack of a few trades
When an opposition player spikes hard, more often that not you will find an outstretched Hari making sure the ball is still in play for his team with the help of his immense ball control skills. However, the Thunderbolt libero wouldn't have been in the sport if he hadn't moved to his grandmother's house all those years back.
"I started playing in the sixth standard, and professionally started playing in 2013 where I got a chance to play as a Libero. In the same year, I played in the sub-junior nationals and even got my first medal, a bronze," he recalled.
"Before Volleyball, I used to play cricket, represented my state as well. My father, however, didn't like me playing sports. He sent me to my grandmother, hoping that I'll be away from playing there. Near my grandmother's house, there was a volleyball court," Hari narrated.
It was here when a young Hari took to the volleyball court and started to get interested in the sport. After seeing his son's determination, it was Hari's father, a farmer and former LIC executive manager, who introduced him to a SAI official.
"One of my father's friends. Kumar sir, used to work at SAI. My father approached him about me and then Kumar sir suggested I go for the SAI trials in 2013. I was seeing everyone being over six feet, and my own sir started having doubts about me. But he said that I had a chance of playing as a Libero," Hari said.
After years of hard work, Hari has made it in the sport and there's no one happier than his father. "Now, my father is very happy. He just told me not to spoil my life," the athlete said.
Interestingly, we might have also seen 'Hari the dancer' if he'd carried on with it back in school. Nonetheless, in a battle between cricket and dancing, it was volleyball which emerged as the winner in Prasad's life.
"I wasn't good in studies. I was good at sports and dancing. When I was in 10th standard, I used to choreograph 8th and 9th standard students in the functions. Nowadays, whenever I listen to music I feel like dancing," a smiling Hari said.
PVL and Indian Volleyball
Like in many players' life, the PVL has changed Hari's life as well. More importantly, it paved the way for his national team call-up which not many can boast of. According to him, he got his identity after years of toiling.
"Before the PVL, there was the Pro League. I got a chance to play with the Kochi Blue Spikers in 2019. From there, I got a chance to play for India. I'd been in three to four national camps prior, Asian Championships and even Asian Games, but it was in 2019 that I got my chance. I got my identity after that, people knew me as a good Libero from Karnataka," he said proudly.
"In 2021-22, i joined the Thunderbolts and got a chance to play with my best buddy Ashwal Rai. We got recognised as champions after winning the title and I got fame from that," he added.
Hari feels if this league can be sustained the way it is running for more years than India volleyball could reach greater heights.
"Technology has been improving a lot, so modern volleyball is a lot different. However, India still lags behind in the sport. If the league is continued for the next 5-6 years then the country can be one of the best in Asia, if not the world," the Ekalavya awardee said.
Despite the league's popularity, the PVL is yet to be recognised by the Volleyball Federation of India. Prasad was quite scathing in his assessment of the federation and its role in running the sport in the country.
"They (the federation) say that they want to promote volleyball, but nobody does that. Everyone wants the power. You will see sons and brothers and relatives playing in the national team, and not the actual players. India is still backward in this sense," an honest Hari said.