Chasing the Olympic Dream, Meet India’s Enormous Volleyball Stars

Chasing the Olympic Dream, Meet India’s Enormous Volleyball Stars

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Camera: Sumit Badola
Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui

When a girl of average height tried interviewing two of India’s towering volleyball players, the situation was a bit chaotic. I was asking the questions from a foot lower, and it seemed like Akhin Jas and Saqlain Tariq were looking down at someone from the top of a roof.

After a bunch of height jokes, and Akhin asking me to stand on a chair, the interview kicked off with both players introducing themselves.

Saqlain Tariq, 6’2

The more outspoken one of the two, 22-year-old Saqlain is the first player from Jammu and Kashmir to represent India in age any group. He started by talking about his hometown, one of the most remote districts in his state.

“I belong to a border area called Poonch. Over there, volleyball is so popular that you could say it’s going to have a lot of players in the future. My father, with my brother’s help, runs a volleyball academy there. Currently, practicing in the mornings is impossible due to the winter, but we have at least 30 children coming there to train in the evenings.”
Saqlain Tariq

Akhin Jas, 6’8

Akhin Jas, who hails from Kerala, was part of the Indian squad that represented India at the 2018 Asian Games. “My position is middle block,” he said, as Tariq chipped in and added, “He’s the wall of Indian volleyball”.

But Jas said, “That’s just my role on the volleyball court”.

India’s Volleyball Struggles

The Volleyball Federation of India (VBI) had been handed a provisional suspension by the international body of the sport – Federation Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) – in December 2016 due to infighting within administrators of the VBI.

For two years then, the sport and its players suffered in the country, due to their inability to participate in tournaments abroad.

But in May 2018, the suspension was lifted, and India was allowed to participate in the Asian Games.

“Our goal is to see India at the Olympic Games. All the players want to take India there. Indian volleyball has struggled a lot in the last few years. Even the players went through a lot because India wasn’t competing at the time.”
Saqlain Tariq

Things are now looking up for the sport, as India is set to host the maiden Pro Volleyball League season, with some of the top international players coming in to participate.

Pro Volleyball League 2019

Talking about the inaugural edition of the Pro Volleyball League, set to kick-off on 2 February, Tariq said, “We feel like we're getting a chance to prove ourselves and take India to greater heights. The aim is to make India stand atop the podium at the Olympics”.

The season will feature six teams:

  • Chennai Spartans
  • Calicut Heroes
  • Kochi Blue Spikers
  • Black Hawks Hyderabad
  • Ahmedabad Defenders
  • U Mumba Volley

Each team will have a 12-member squad, including two foreign players and two U-21 Indian players. A total of 18 matches will be played in the league, and each game will have five sets of 15 points each. A side winning all five sets will be a whitewash, and win the team six points.

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