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Saji Chacko
The writer is a senior journalist and Consulting Editor of Khel Mitra


Nihal Sarin – the 16 year old prodigy who defeated Magnus Carlsen in an unofficial match

A couple of years ago, Nihal Sarin was struggling to find his feet in the tough world of senior chess. Now, the 16-year-old prodigy  has the world at his feet—especially after his recent epoch  win over world champion Magnus Carlsen.

Even though the Kerala prodigy had beaten Magnus in an ‘unofficial’ blitz match, the ramifications of that win  go well beyond another statistic in the nascent pro life of the Indian. For someone like Nihal, the win over Carlsen, the world champion since 2013,  was the catalyst which the youngster needed to kickstart his career at the senior level.

“It was an online game (on stream) and I was his (Magnus’s) second last opponent. Somehow I felt it was going to be my day and played my best. I also feel that in a player’s career there comes such a moment when a certain win gives him that x factor,” he said.

There was no doubting Nihal’s talent and class ever since he won the World under 10 titles in both classic and blitz  respectively and followed it up with a runner up effort in the under 12 World Championshps the following year. He became a Grandmaster at the tender age of 14, announcing himself as a likely successor to Viswanathan Anand.

But then there remained a very dodggy factor. There were a lot of talented Indian junior players like Gukesh and Praggnadhaa both of whom achieved their GM norms at 12 years—but these were not able to make the succesfull transition from the junior to the senior ranks.  So would that also be the case with Nihal who would remain just another talented junior who failed to make his presence felt at the senior level.

To take Nihal’s game to the next level, there was  a need to  identify and hire a good coach. Someone who himself played the sport at the highest level and was communicative also. He hired the services of  Srinath Narayanan, who is a GM himself.  

Nihal Sarin

Nihal Sarin

With so many achievements at such a tender age, Nihal also showed his prowess at the senior level when he managed to ekk out a draw against the much higher tanked and  illustrious opponent Viswanathan Anand  in the Tata Steel tournament held in 2018. That time Nihal played with white and it was a close affair which the youngster showed that he hold out against the best.  “That draw against Anand was a big moral booster for me. “ he added.

In fact, Anand was very impressed by Nihal that he went on say that (in Nihal) he saw the potential of a future world champion. Anand added,” It’s quite tough to play Nihil when he plays with white. “


Blitz is Nihal’s forte. This format is like the T20 of chess and each player has virtually no time to think and ponder his next move. Nihal, whose disinterested style on the board-- sometimes, scratching his head to even looking at his opponent’s eye—something rare in the chess world. His rational for this is simple---“ I want to show that one can win even while looking distracted in an intensely cerebral game like chess,” he opined.

But then there is no mistaking his intent to win.  The fierce competitior that he is, Nihal tends to remember his loses more. “If one rememebers the losses, then it acts as a catalyst or motivating factor. But I also do remember my important wins”.he adds with a chuckle.

One hopes he has more reasons to smile in the future also.

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Saji Chacko
The writer is a senior journalist and Consulting Editor of Khel Mitra


The curious case of Neeraj Chopra and Amit panghal in Khel Ratna

Any awards by default can be a contentious issue. When it comes to the Khel Ratna, the Holy Grail of the national sports award, controversy is bound to be there with its set of commissions and ommisions. The Khel Ratna 2020 has also been ‘plagued’ by the omission of at least two of India’s top sportspersons. It seems that Neeraj Chopra and Amit Pangal always end up as the eternal bridesmaids.

For the last three years now, javelin thrower Neeraj and boxer Amit have been shortlisted for these awards, yet missed out during the final stage. The year 2020 proved to be no different as cricketer Rohit Sharma, table tennis player Manika Batra, wrestler Vinesh Phogat, hockey player Rani Rampal and para athlete Mariappan Thangavelu have been recommended for the Khel Ratna.

Neeraj Chopra 

It must be worth mentioning here that Neeraj won the rare double of Asian Games and Commonwealth gold in 2018---and a certain awardee this time after he was pipped in 2018 and 2019 by Mirabai Chanu and Bajrang Punia respectively. A lot of eyebrows were raised then—it was different this year also. And when one thinks that there is less than a year to go for the Tokyo Olympics, the Khel Ratna would have been a shot in the arm for the 22-year-old.

There is little doubt that Neeraj’s achievements are much more than Manika Batra, who won the CWG gold siliver and bronze (in singles, doubles and mixed doubles). Apart from this she also won a bronze medal at the Asian Games. It seems that the selection committee may have deemed that Manika’s’ achievements were greater since she won more medals as against Neeraj’s tally of two gold. Neeraj not making the Khel Ratna for the third year in running is quite baffling indeed. 

Similarly, Amit Pangal’s credentials to be crowned with the Khel Ratna was better than most. For not only is the 24-year-old ranked No.1 in the world, he has won a silver at the World Championships and a gold at the Asian Games and Asian Boxing Championships. Amit might be left to wonder what more he has to achieve in order to make him worthy of the Khel Ratna.

Amit Panghal

The one blip which Amit has in an otherwise chequered history is that he inadvertently took dope in 2012.  Since that incident, he has apologised, moved on and made a niche for himself. But then it seems the selection committee gave weightage to dope allegation against him.

The Khel Ratna 2020 winners have been decided but the ommission of Amit and Neeraj will linger on.

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Priyanka Rajput


Football & me - From being affectionately called Wayne Rooney to working in a 9 to 6 job

Never thought one announcement would change my life to this extent that it will bring in a totally different personality out of me. To be honest i love and adore this me. I still remember it very well i was in 7th grade when some girls walked into our class to ask for names for inter house football tournament. As soon as i hear the announcement, some kind of rush went through my veins and my brain all of sudden responded “go for it”. I am someone who always prefer to listen to heart before brain. But that day~ miracles do happen. I signed up for that small school level league and i never realised that there a’int going back from there. When i started my family was a bit hesitant coz their ideology about girl playing sport was quiet sophisticated. Common claims like who will marry you if you will break your leg and bla bla, list it too long. But god’s grace i was lucky enough that my father supported me in all these situations. His efforts and motivating nature has always kept me going and i’ll always be grateful for it. Starting with small league then to inter school then state team and finally then to Indian team camp, i have played all the positions in football. Most of my coaches considered me as that stepney which fits anywhere anytime needed. This was my coaches statement when i was a part of Delhi senior team squad for National games. Not just this the reason why i fell in love with Wayne Rooney is also one of my coaches contribution. No doubt he is a great player and i am lucky that i get to be called by his name. Playing a sport that has so many superstition as a combo isn't all a smooth ride at all. It wont always have a happy side to it. Playing to any level and any kind of sport in our country has a hell lot of history behind it. I too faced it all. Starting from lying at home just to practice to I facing criticism for playing a men’s sport. Then to being alienated coz i chose to play a challenging sport. To face a-lot of issues regarding my regular practice even during football season. And had to cycle twice a day to school for practice coz i never wanted to be a burden to my family for my choice and interests. The list could go on. But i always came across all the issues, barriers just coz i was passionate about my sport. So passionate that even after been working for last 4 yeas in a 9-6job i still find time to practice, play, represent the state team of Karnataka as Vice Captain. Yeah i have represented Rajasthan, Delhi, Karnataka’s state teams. Not bragging about myself but yeah i was awarded as the highest goal scorer and the best player of tournament for CBSE zonal’s and many other tournaments too. Any given point if asked what bring the best in you ill always have one word in my mind is FOOTBALL.

Being a biker and a footballer shares my passion equally. Apart from being a biker i have done many track race events and was a part of the One make championship track racing squad (200CC) for the year 2019. Owning my bike and riding it all over the country has been a really great experience and has added a-lot to my learnings. The extent of love towards my riding journeys is this much that i have started vlogging my ride experiences on youtube.

I have always been a person with out of the box choices and decisions which always made my life more courageous and adventurous & “helps me in breaking the stereotypes”.

I am and will always continue to be a part of this different pool of people, coz it helps me in testing my limits and Be you & Be different.

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Saji Chacko
The writer is a senior journalist and Consulting Editor of Khel Mitra


A lot of pegging for Tent Pegging

Heading International Conference on Tent Pegging  a major event

Traditionally, Tent Pegging has been the forte of Indian riders- evidence of this comes in the form of Indian riders winning the gold medal in this event at the Asian Games in 1982. Unfortunately, this discipline was stopped from the Olympic fold. Now in an attempt to revive this sport for the next Asian Games in China (2022), the road map to ensure Tent Pegging gets its due back in the Olympic fold, an international equestrian webinar was held. Among other things discussed was the road ahead to be taken for the sport of tent pegging which the delegates felt should have its right place under the sun.

The inaugural International Conference on Equestrian Tent Pegging & its Future, an initiative of  Equiwings Sports in association with Federation for Promotion of Global Economic & Cultural Relations (FGECR) was organised on Saturday.

The Road for Tent Pegging to become an Olympic Sport was discussed in detail and the road-map for Development of the Sport Internationally particularly in the Asian Region was discussed. The Asian Equestrian Federation (AEF) Tent Pegging Committee has decided to re-introduce Tent Pegging in ASIAN GAMES in China in 2022. Tent Pegging was last played in Delhi Asian Games in 1982, where India had won a gold medal.

The Webinar brought together all stake holders of Equestrian Tent Pegging from across the globe. The stake holders are primarily the Tent Pegging players at International, National, State and Local levels along-with Tent Pegging Coaches, Administrators, Promoters, National Federations, Clubs, Schools, Sponsors, Service Providers, Sports Event Managers, Sports Journalists, TV Broadcasters and Equipment Manufacturers.

The main objective of this conference was able to disseminate the latest information from the Leaders of Tent Pegging Fraternity and also an attempt to take stock of the work done in the last decade. 

Another very important topic which was discussed in this platform was what the future holds for Tent Pegging around the world. The Conference will also outline the scope and opportunities offered by the pursuant of the Sport.

The Conference held in the backdrop of India’s Ajay Sawant being conferred with India’s prestigious ARJUNA AWARD for his International performance in Tent Pegging. Some of the leading luminaries who took part in this webinar include the President –International Tent Pegging Federation (ITPF), Dalene Baksa (Head, women’s committee-ITPF), Paul Brown (President, British Tent Pegging Association and European Tent Pegging Federation, Mohd Salim Al Maliki, Maj Gen  N.S. Rajpurohit (Ex member – Equestrian Federation of India), Col Jaiveer Singh (Secy Gen, EFI) and Brijesh Mathur,

On his part, Sheikh Md Issa Al Fairuz ,President ITPF, said that the world body has been quite proactive when it came to promoting the cause of Tent Pegging. “We at the ITPF have been at the forefront of furthering the cause of Tent Pegging. It demands a high level of skill from both man and horse. Let’s see how it all pans out in the coming time,” he added.

The Conference had representation from Top Equestrian Tent Pegging Administrators from all continents. The total online registration of the conference reached 722 from 19 countries like Oman, India, Germany, USA, Pakistan, Nepal, Norway, Canada, Egypt, Sudan, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, South Africa, Great Britain, Morocco, Yemen and Australia.

“As India is a leading force in promotion & development of Equestrian Tent Pegging, the future development course will likely be more dependent on India to take this Sports & its players to the next level,” opined Ahmad Afsar whose company Equiwings was instrumental in hosting the webinar. ,Afsar is also  a former coach and manager of Indian Tent Pegging Team. He was also the coach of Team India which had Ajay Sawant. 

“The Federation for Promotion of Global Economic & Cultural Relations (FGECR), the organiser of the Conference conveyed their full support for the development of Tent Pegging,” said Brijesh Mathur, President of FGECR.  Sachin Vats, Chairman of Gurukul Horse Riding Club and Vice-President of FGECR thanked all International Speakers and participants who made the conference a super success.

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Deepak Ajmera


How I fell in love with football

Hi, my name is Deepak, and this is my story.

It was the year 2008 and i was in my 8th class, just being a normal teenager, goofing around with friends and playing video games all day. Academics was not my strong suit and the only thing I related to was the sweat and tears of the sportsmen. But in this cricket crazy country, i was the odd one out as i didn't really like cricket, football always intrigued me, i spent hours of Youtube trying to watch the skill videos and highlights of the best players in the world and being in awe of the things that they could do with a ball at their feet.

While all the other boys took to cricket and had enough to build teams, I was generally the only one with a football trying to do the best I could alone. 

Everything changed when i switched schools and met another football fanatic friend and classmate, he saw me playing in the sports period and asked me to join him in the practice sessions of the school football team. This was a big thing from me, from having no one to play with, I now had the opportunity to train with the school team itself. I had finally found my place and never looked back, took up the challenge of playing with the seniors and learning from them and the coach and improved my game tremendously.

I now took part regularly in all kinds of tournaments from district to nationals and became a better player with each passing day. But as i moved on to college, the parents were worried about my inclination towards football and wanted me to focus more on my studies rather than football which was gonna pay me nothing. Now how can i tell them that the feeling of dribbling through an entire defence or setting up the perfect chip assist or blocking the most ferocious shot head on is a feeling which money can't buy?

Anyways, it's easy to say that I had no support from them, i remember once my father even tore the ball apart with a knife and warned me to focus on studies or the consequences would be bad. I had a terrible realization that day, if I having all the comforts of the world from a big house to cars to money etc was having so many issues, other talented kids from poorer backgrounds must be going through hell. It was then I decided to open a football academy for youngsters and underprivileged kids, it was really hard to convince my parents for this, but after my continuous tries, they didn't agree but left me alone to do what I wanted, this was a relief.


I teamed up with an NGO working for underprivileged kids and started my football academy, teaching those kids and giving them the opportunity to do better in their life, and to see them smile and work hard gave me all the satisfaction in the world that having big paychecks would never do.

All around me were kids whose parents worked multiple jobs like rag pickers, mason workers, labourers and other odd jobs to put 2 meals at the table. These kids had no primary education and couldn't even do basic maths or alphabets. I took this opportunity to not only teach them about football, but also about life, because well, football is life !

I trained them for daily needs, taught them basic life skills, gave them leadership and motivational training, helped them to become better academically and personally, i want them to become responsible individuals who could do better in their lives than odd jobs to satisfy their hunger, i tried to given them a platform to stand on their feet and to be able to keep their heads high. The hard work reaped fruits when the kids were able to win different competitions from calisthenics to football tournaments.

The training was going well when covid hit us, we were forced to close down our academy, but we didn't give up, we tried to keep in touch daily with video calls and virtual training. Most of these kids didn't have access to internet or multimedia phones, but we arranged something or the other, group sessions from a single phone, or neighbours phone etc, the kids too did their best and would update us daily about their progress by sending their videos whenever they can.

So well, this is my story till now, i would like to take this opportunity to thank you for giving me a platform to share my story and I hope that it can inspire others like me to come forward and help others in need.

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