Many in India say, ‘If cricket is a religion, then Tendulkar must be God’. Almost all Indians must have watched or at least heard his name once in their lives. Even after retiring from cricket, Tendulkar continues to be one of the most popular and celebrated sportspersons in the country.
Several million in India follow cricket passionately. For many, it is the one and only sport that they enjoy. The status of the ‘Gentleman’s Game’ is so reputed in the subcontinent that, often, other games find it difficult to grow as they have to compete with cricket. Cricket, in fact, has emerged as an event that unites the various sections of the country, irrespective of religion, caste, ethnicity, and language. Though Hockey is the ‘official’ sport of the country de jure, Cricket is the de facto game — its tremendous growth over several years has overshadowed the national sport itself. Indian cricket has grown from the ranks of a game played by British officers and their colonial subjects, to a national passion, with the country’s team being one of the best in the world.
This popular status enjoyed by cricket comes at the cost of several other sports. Many popular sports, both international and regional, are marinating in neglect owing to the mammoth size of cricket followers in the country. This has also led to a disheartening trend wherein the legends from other sports are being conveniently forgotten by mainstream media and the Indian public. One such legendary volleyball player was Jimmy George, who took Indian volleyball new heights.
Jimmy George was born into an aristocratic Syrian Christian family in the Malabar region of Kerala. He was born in Peravoor, a small village back in 1955. He was exposed to volleyball at an early age by his father, who was a university level volleyball player. In fact, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he came from what might be called a volleyball family. He, along with his seven brothers, used to play as a team. He made his way into the Indian National Volleyball team when he was just a teenager, at a mere age of sixteen. He was known for his jumps and the way he flew in the air; the laws of gravity did not work for Jimmy George. His stylish and elegant jump not only helped him focus on the ball, but also to hit the ball with greater strength, each time he aimed at it. His international club career started with his association with the Abu Dhabi Sports Club in the year 1979. Later, he signed contracts with several legendary Italian volleyball teams. This also opened up for him, new and exciting avenues in many popular volleyball leagues in the European continent. It was during his time in Italy that he rose to prominence, not just in India, but across the world.
People admired him; they loved him and took him as a role model. I remember how he became a household name during the late 1980s. Maybe even God loved the way he played so much that George had to start his eternal journey in his early thirties itself. Jimmy George died from a car accident in Italy while he was traveling for a volleyball match. He passed away on the 30th of November, 1987.
Even after three decades of his death, his legacy continues to be the inspiration for many. The fact that there is an indoor stadium in Italy that is named after Jimmy George speaks for the volley-world’s admiration of this great man. However, it is disheartening that he is being forgotten in the country where he was born and to which he belonged: India. With not even a single monument to commemorate his legacy and contributions, India remains apathetic. Though there is a volleyball tournament and a sports academy to serve as his memorial, neither of the two has been constituted by the government. It is quite saddening how conveniently our governments have forgotten his memory– and this is not the case with just Jimmy George. India is a land of several unsung heroes. Sarwan Singh, Ashwini Nachappa, Shankar Laxman, Makhan Singh… the list goes on. Though they all excelled in their respective fields, their country failed to acknowledge their contributions and efforts amidst all challenges.
India stands paralyzed with cricket-fever, and is left with no time or resources for stars from other sports. The country needs cricket, and it is indeed one of the few sports that India is really good at. However, this obsession and passion for cricket should not come at the cost other sports. This March, we shall celebrate George’s 63rd birth anniversary — Jimmy George, who defied gravity and smashed the volleyball; later, we defied his contributions and smashed his legacy.
– Contributed by Jiss
Picture: Jimmy George waving hands at his Italian Fans (Credits- Redbull.com)