Cricket is making inroads into turning a global sport with European nations making large strides in the game. The European Cricket Championship has seen teams participating from Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Israel and Italy where the sport is still at a novice stage.
Cricket in Russia recently gained prominence after the sport was recognised by its government. Ever since the board achieved affiliation to the International Cricket Council (ICC) it has continued to reach new heights. But it has been possible only due to the rigorous amount of work put in behind the scenes by two Indians. Ashwani Chopra and Mohanjeet Singh Arora found Cricket Russia in 2004, in a bid to legalise leather ball league in the country, and have managed to take the sport to distance.
CricketAddictor caught up with Cricket Russia president Ashwani Chopra as he shared with us his journey, fuelled by some well-wishers, and his love for the game. Chopra is a happy man with the way things have progressed but knows there is still a lot to be done. He found the board in the country at time when not many new or understood about the sport. But gradually, the locals, including some baseball players started taking to cricket.
SC: You set up Cricket Russia in 2004. What was the motive behind it? How did you happen to be in Russia?
AC: I first went to Russia as a student in 1990. Now this is my 30th year in Russia. Initially there were informal games between South Asian expats and the motive behind forming Cricket Russia in 2004 was to formalize a leather ball league in Russia. This we have done successfully today.
SC: How was the response from the citizens in country about the sport? Were they playing it regularly before Cricket Russia was formed?
AC: No Russian was aware of the game until we seriously started playing the game. Initially our Russian friends visited the grounds to watch us play.
SC: Now that cricket is officially recognised and you can avail grants from the government. What is your first major goal?
AC: Until and unless Cricket is played in the Olympics, no government grants would be coming our way. The Russian sports policy is to give priority for Olympics sports. However, we have the option of applying for a grant in the future – but that is not a certainty as I said before since we are not an Olympic sport yet.
SC: How difficult was it without the sponsorship initially? Take us through your initial struggles, if any
AC: It has been a struggle and it is a struggle even now. I personally spend my own funds for the benefit of the game. So does other die hard supporters of the game. All this is done due to our love for the game.
SC: Are there any other Indian training with the team? Tell us about the Russian talents?
AC: Indeed many Indians and players from South Asia dominate the game. But we have not neglected the indigenous Russians either. We have got hold of Russian baseball players to convert to cricket and they have great hand-eye coordination. They are developing and look quite talented.
SC: What does the current infrastructure for cricket looks like in Russia? Is it adequate, what more is required?
AC: Much improvements are needed infrastructure wise and the key is sourcing funding. Again the question of Olympic status arises. If we an Olympic sport funding for infrastructure as grounds could be sourced from the government. Right now the few grounds we have in Russia are small in size more suited for sports as soccer. We also badly need an academy if we are to hone the talents of the 60 or so Russian youth who have taken to the game.