Former India hockey captain and 1980 Olympic gold medallist MM Somaya is rooting for Maharashtra to emerge as the champions of the 36th National Games that got underway in Surat on Tuesday.
“Services are no doubt the defending champions but in the last seven years a lot has changed,” Somaya pointed out, when asked to pick his best bet for the Games. “Maharashtra, however, has good medal prospects in several disciplines and will begin as my favourites,” he added.
The three-time Olympian (1980, 1984 and 1988), who was an elegant right half-back in his prime, however, concedes that Haryana, Punjab and Kerala, who have been dominating the medals table in recent years, cannot be ignored.
“Gujarat, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka will also get their share of the shiny metal since some very good work has been done by all of them at the grassroots level,” he pointed out, predicting an intense battle at the top.
The Mumbai-based Coorgi will keenly be following the action in hockey but doesn’t want to reveal his picks for the Men’s and Women’s gold medals.
‘I will be watching hockey closely. But I like football and athletics too and will be eagerly following them as well,” Somaya said.
For someone who never got the chance to play in the National Games, the recently retired executive director of Bharat Petroleum (BPCL), is delighted that the Games are being held again.
“They are the “showpiece sporting event of the country and are like a virtual mini-Olympics,” he said.
Pointing out that the Games must be held impeccably, with the best facilities for the athletes, he said “The event should have the grandeur normally associated with the Olympic Games so that athletes are enthused to perform to the best of their abilities.”
“I gather that the Gujarat state has put together world-class infrastructure and I am certain that they will conduct the National Games in a befitting manner,” he said.
Lauding the “enormous effort” of the organising committee and the state government in getting the show together in three months, Somaya concluded, “I wish to compliment all those involved and wish them (and the athletes) all success in the conduct of these Games.”