Can’t enter home if you don’t go for practice: Nayan Moni recalls days of struggle
Arjuna Awardee Nayanmoni Saikia

Ahmedabad: The two medals at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham have infused new life into Lawn Bowls, a sport that links India to its colonial past.

The multi-generational sport has been on the CWG itinerary since 1930, but it was only after the 2022 edition of the quadrennial event, that eight Indians (Women’s Four Gold and Men’s Four Silver) catapulted the sport from anonymity to overnight attention with their exploits at the Victoria Park.

On Wednesday, Assam’s Nayanmoni Saikia, a member of the Indian Fours team which made history in Birmingham last month, stole the show on the first day of Lawn Bowls competition at the 36th National Games by comfortably winning two singles matches and one team game at the Kensville Golf and Country Club near here.

Playing her third National Games, Nayanmoni Saikia expressed delight that her sport is drawing a lot of attention. “The gold medal provided the impetus for Lawn Bowls. But we have to make sure that our win wasn’t a fluke. We have to keep performing to sustain its popularity,” said Saikia, a Deputy Superintendent of Police in Assam, after a highly successful day.

In an exclusive interview with EastMojo, the 34-year-old from Golaghat said the task of transforming Lawn Bowls from a non-descript discipline, once played by at most a few hundred across the country, wasn’t an easy one and needed a special effort at a big-ticket event to make their presence felt.

Saikia, who took up the sport after a leg injury jeopardised her weightlifting career, recalls the struggles of being associated with Lawn Bowls, a sport that is only limited to the CWG and doesn’t feature at the Asian Games or the Olympics. “It was difficult at the start, people did not understand the sport or sometimes would mock it as only a time-pass,” she said.

“The struggle was real, and participating in national camps and whatever few tournaments held during the time meant we had to pay from our pockets for travel. There were no coaches as we didn’t have an association that governed the sport. Also, since the balls had to be imported from foreign countries, it left us struggling for funds,” she added.

When asked if the recent success at the Commonwealth Games had changed the attitude towards the sport in India, Saikia said, “You can say so. We understood we needed one big event where we needed to win big, and the gold medal in Birmingham provided that kick. But the players have to make sure that it wasn’t a fluke and have to keep performing to sustain the popularity and the excitement among the fans.”

At the Kensville club in Ahmedabad, Saikia walked the talk with an exquisite display of class and finesse in front of a sizable crowd, still coming to terms with the sport’s rules.

“The National Games are getting bigger and better. Naturally, there will be pressure on every athlete. But it is up to the senior players to leave a mark and show the way,” said Saikia, a multiple gold medal winner at the 2011 and the 2015 editions of the National Games.

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