Fighting Chance

The Olympic aspirations of Punjab’s small-town judo hub

01 May 2017
Punjab’s Gurdaspur district, many young people are attracted to judo because it can provide a leg-up in the application process to government jobs
harsha vadlamani

In a small hall inside a red-brick school building in the town of Gurdaspur, Punjab, around 15 young men sparred in pairs, throwing one another to the ground in white judo suits. About the same number of players watched from the sidelines, waiting for their turn to practise.

Among the judo players—judokas—sparring that March day, Karanjit Singh Maan, standing at a burly six-foot-two, cast an impressive figure. Maan won a gold medal in the South Asian Games in 2016, and is a member of the Indian senior national men’s judo team. When I asked him if he wished to represent India at the Olympics, he replied, “I want to win an Olympic medal in judo, not just participate.”

His ambition is unsurprising, given that the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Judo Federation of India Judo Training Centre—where the young men were sparring that day—has produced 26 internationally competitive judokas. These have included Jasleen Singh Saini, who, like Maan, won a gold medal at the South Asian Games in 2016, and Avtar Singh, who competed in the Olympics last year in Rio de Janeiro. Of the eight players on India’s senior national men’s team, four come from the centre in Gurdaspur. The centre coaches over 150 boys and young men, from ages six to 25, including players from Punjab’s other districts, and even from other states.

Vikas Prakash Joshi is an independent journalist, podcaster, translator and writer. He has been published in The Wire, DNA and The Hindu, among other publications, and has worked in the field of Right to Information.

Keywords: Punjab sport London olympics Olympics Judo Gurdaspur