“ WE AS CLIMBERS, HAVE TO MAKE IT MATTER.’’

Vaibhav Mehta (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Vaibhav Mehta (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Speaking to Vaibhav Mehta on the proposed World Cup in bouldering, India’s first:

Vaibhav Mehta has been associated with Girivihar’s annual climbing competition at Belapur, Navi Mumbai, since its inception. He is the technical brain, route setter and in many ways, the raison d’être of the competition. It is hoped that next year -2016 – Navi Mumbai will host a World Cup in bouldering. Subject to the receipt of all required clearances from authorities, the event, once official, will be organized by the same team which worked behind the annual competition. Vaibhav – he works and lives in France now – was in Belapur recently. During two days spent discussing the World Cup project and catching up on climbing at the local crags with his friends, Vaibhav spared time to talk to this blog.

Excerpts:

The annual climbing competition organized at Belapur, Navi Mumbai, won’t be happening in 2015. Can you explain why this is so?

The whole idea of not having the competition this year is to move toward our longstanding goal – the World Cup. We have already done leg work in terms of meeting officials, preparing plans and creating initial documentation. Had we conducted the annual competition this year, then our efforts to put up the World Cup would have been compromised. It made sense to step back and think about the goal. The other thing is that even after conducting the competition for eleven years, resources remained a problem. Every year as the competition approached, it was a fire fight. We need to address resource-raising comprehensively. On account of all this a break was warranted.

In the world of climbing, we hear of World Cup and World Championship. How are the two different?

The World Cup in bouldering, which is what we are interested in, happens every year. It falls within a season of three to four months and includes six to seven World Cup events. The World Championship happens once every two years. The format is the same. Some venues strongly associated with the climbing culture, like places in Europe and within that, places from countries like France and Germany, tend to repeat more than other venues. That said, I would think that the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC), is keen to promote the sport and would look at venues in regions where climbing is catching on. I am sure they are aware of India on the rock climbing map thanks to internationally known climbing locales like Hampi and Badami. They are aware of the potential.

File photo of the 2014 Girivihar competition (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

File photo of the 2014 Girivihar competition (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

At what stage are the efforts to bring a World Cup to Navi Mumbai? What specific disciplines will it cover?

The World Cup will feature bouldering. In terms of how far we have reached – we secured approval from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF); they have said they are willing to collaborate with Girivihar for the World Cup. The venue will be in Navi Mumbai. All the preliminary papers have been submitted to the IFSC. We are now awaiting their word. Should it be a go-ahead, then the real work towards organizing the event will commence.

One of Girivihar’s internal mailers on preparations for the World Cup spoke of selecting a team of Indian climbers and training them to participate in the event. Can you elaborate on what you have in mind?

When the IFSC awards you a World Cup, the host country typically gets a quota of ten climbers to participate in the event. We will try to find young, promising climbers and train them to compete with the best, at the World Cup. Most likely, the team will be jointly decided by the IMF and Girivihar. There is a reason for my saying so. At eleven editions old and a well documented exercise at that, the Girivihar competition has data on the performance of many climbers who participated, some of them repeatedly. I am not aware of similar data for bouldering, spread across so many years, with any other event in India. This is data that can be used as valuable reference material. And it must be used in conjunction with other relevant factors, like a climber’s ability to handle the stress and competitive spirit you find at elite competitions. We know from experience that we have some good candidates. If this approach is unacceptable, then another method would perhaps be to go by the performance of eligible candidates over the preceding three years, including how much the climber has improved. We could have a selection trial, a simple test where you set up a few boulder problems to gauge how the candidate climbs, the climbing style shown, the person’s attitude and very importantly, how the candidate reads the route and uses the available time. All this is critical from the perspective of a World Cup. What I will emphasise is that this selection should not ideally be only about a climber’s performance. It should also dwell on the climber’s promise and potential to improve for we are complementing team selection with a training process.

File photo of preparations for the 2014 Girivihar competition (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

File photo of preparations for the 2014 Girivihar competition (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

For training, we would love to send the selected team overseas, provided we have the money. I may be able to set the routes for selecting a team but I have no illusions about my abilities – at this stage, I am not good enough to be a coach. I can only guide. For the initial phase of training, we can possibly have an Indian coach. Or, we can have a foreign coach for the whole duration of training as the expertise of grooming climbers to world standards is anyway more overseas than here. The World Cup in Navi Mumbai is planned for May 2016. We hope for an intense training schedule and training camp that peaks for the World Cup. Ideally, the team selection should happen as soon as we get the IFSC clearance for the World Cup. The initial training should continue till mid-2015. After that, the team should focus on training specifically for the World Cup.

An event of this nature needs sponsors. They like to know what their support can translate into for a given sport. Can you explain what the proposed World Cup can mean for competitive climbing in India? Why does this World Cup matter?

Why this World Cup matters? I think we as climbers, have to make it matter. We have to make full use of this opportunity. It is fine to say that we organized a World Cup but it is even more important to clearly communicate the whole package, including its transference as inspiration to youngsters to get involved with climbing. There is definitely the promise of the World Cup having a multiplier effect on the popularity of climbing in India. If you have noticed, there is a climbing culture slowly growing. For example, in whatever modest way it may be, a lot of indoor climbing walls have come up. Imagine what can happen if these climbing enthusiasts also got to see the best in the world, in action. And the best in the world will come if you have a World Cup. As I said, there are around six to seven World Cup events every year. As you participate in each, you accumulate points in accordance with how you finish at each event and by year-end you have climbers with the most number of points. As this final tally matters, usually, the best climbers arrive for every competition. So far you saw them only on video. Now you see them climbing in real life. This should add to the potential multiplier effect of the World Cup on Indian climbing. Not to mention, the ringside view of top athletes that aspiring climbers here will get.

Vaibhav (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Vaibhav (Photo: Shyam G Menon)

Can you tell us how the typical World Cup feels like?

Most of the countries hosting World Cups so far are well known in climbing. In these countries, a World Cup generates much interest in the local community. They take pride in hosting such a competition; they also wish to see their home team do well. In India, we will have to create that curiosity and interest. The question is – how well will the local community beyond the climbers themselves, respond? For that we are looking at specific events. Certain events during the World Cup and some that will continue after the World Cup to sustain the impetus. We are also looking at associated events that can happen during the World Cup; acts linked to BMX, skate boarding and slack lining.

You have been part of the Belapur competition’s organizing team for over a decade now. How useful will that experience be, particularly when it comes to organizing the World Cup?

Organizing the Belapur competition for eleven years has been a valuable experience. It has been trial and error but we have rectified our mistakes and improved considerably over time. This experience will definitely helps us in organizing the World Cup. Looked at differently – the upcoming event will be called a World Cup but at heart it remains a competition, which is what we organized for the last eleven years. However there will be challenges. The main one will be – scaling up the resources required to match the size and expectations of the World Cup. The overall budget is much bigger and within that details matter more than before. For example, previously we used to host half a dozen foreign climbers during the annual open competition. At a typical World Cup, there will be 20-30 of them and standards to be followed. We can’t compromise on standards.

(The interviewer, Shyam G Menon, is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai)

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