With Olympic Berth, Fouaad Mirza Revivifies Equestrian in India
Fouaad Mirza ended India’s wait of two decades to become the first equestrian to make the cut for the Olympics.
The dormant sport of equestrian in India got a fresh lease of life in the last two years and all credit goes to Fouaad Mirza. The 27-year-old broke India’s 36-year equestrian medal drought at the Jakarta Asian Games in 2018, bagging silver in both the individual and team events.
And continuing the revitalisation programme, in February 2020, Fouaad ended India’s wait of over two decades to become the first equestrian to make the cut for the Olympics.
Earlier, Imtiaz Anees in Sydney in 2000 and Late Wing Commander IJ Lamba in Atlanta in 1996 are the only Indians to have represented the country at the Olympics in equestrian.
Fouaad, who has been conferred the Arjuna Award by the Indian government in 2019, was assured of an Olympics berth in November 2019 but it was only in January this year that he got the official stamp, when the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (EFI) released their rankings after the 2019 season.
A Rich Pedigree
Not a usual or popular sports in India, equestrian wasn’t a luck by chance kind of thing for the Bengaluru boy. In fact, it had to do a lot with his father’s profession and something with his family’s rich history and legacy.
But Fouaad’s father believes that more than his job the fact that his son grew up in a farm around horses and due to his genes, Fouaad took to horse riding.
Dr Hasneyn Mirza, Fouaad’s father, is an equestrian veterinarian and is a rider like his son and the rest of their ancestors – which also includes dewan of the former princely State of Mysore – Sir Mirza Ismail.
“Around 1824, the family patriarch Aga Ali Asker, who was an Iranian trader, brought horses with him and set up trade supply lines in the region for the native cavalry regiments. Since then, his successors have been involved with horses and races.”Dr Hasneyn Mirza, Fouaad’s father
So, horse-riding came naturally to young Fouaad, at an age of five. But what started as an after school hobby or past-time soon became something serious.
“A retired army officer, Colonel Rajesh Pattu, who is also somebody I look up to, gave me a few old cassettes of Sir Mark Todd’s international career and those got me hooked. I have watched them so many times that I can tell you exactly minute-to-minute what happened,” Fouaad told the Olympic Channel.
Sir Mark Todd of New Zealand was a legend in the equestrian field. He was voted as the Rider of the 20th century by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports.
While in school, young Fouaad knew exactly what to do next. He started riding at the national level and thus the journey began.
A Difficult Choice
But the journey was halted soon. Despite his love for the sport, Fouaad decided to finish his education before taking up equestrian professionally.
“I opted to study and went to England to get a degree in psychology and business and only rode when I came back home during the holidays and realised that I thoroughly missed it,” Fouaad had told The Olympic Channel.
But riding was always in his blood. Despite being away for so long and without training, Fouaad would make it a point take part in the nationals whenever he was in India. What made his job easier was the fact that he used to participate with horses with whom he had trained earlier.
And thus Fouaad’s journey continued.
Challenges & Success
Fouaad’s moment under the sun came at the 2018 Asian Games. But coming into the tournament everything wasn’t looking great for Fouaad. To begin with, the Equestrian Federation of India (EFI) didn’t want to send a team for the quadrennial event.
It was only after lot of coaxing, and with sponsorship from a private firm, that the federation relented and Fouaad was there in Jakarta in Indonesia to represent India at the Asian Games.
“The Asian Games nearly didn’t come off because the EFI had made a selection. They announced a team and almost as quickly as they announced the team, they cancelled the selection. It was worse because they asked the riders to comeback.”Dr Hasneyn Mirza, Fouaad’s father
“And it took a lot of effort from his sponsor Jitu Virwani of the Embassy Group to really lobby and get the team to go. He had invested all the money. He sponsored riders to go to France to train there and bought them horses,” Dr Mirza told The Quint.
After his historic win at the Asian Games, Fouaad had to deal with another hurdle.
The horse with whom he won the silvers at the Asiad, Seigneur Medicott, was injured at the start of 2019. He couldn’t participate with Fouaad anymore and the Bengaluru boy could see his Tokyo dreams fading away.
But, Fouaad didn’t want to give up so easily. He partnered a new horse, Dajara 4, and it was the same horse with whom he won gold at the CCI3*-S event held in Strzegom in Poland in October 2019.
The event being a qualifying event for the Olympics, Fouaad knew that he had scripted history but he waited for the official announcement which eventually came three months later.
Fouaad has been training in Germany ahead of the mega event in July this year. Fouaad will be competing against the best in the world.
“Tokyo will host the best of the best at the Olympic Games. Every single rider of note will be there. There will be 65 of the best riders in the world,” said Fouaad’s father.
“If you finishes in the top 20, you have done really well. Fouaad has a really talented horse and he is completely focused and completely geared to give his best. And if it is his day, he has a good day, he might be on the podium. But we have to be practical and realistic.”Dr Hasneyn Mirza, Fouaad’s father
But irrespective of the result in Tokyo, the 27-year-old has already done enough to single-handedly revive the sport in the country. A favourable result will just be a bonus.
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