The first time I walked into Bong’s small home in Belapur, stepping carefully over buckets of plastic climbing holds and ducking under a DIY climbing wall, I smell pesto eggs, garam chai (warm tea) and a buzz. Abhijit Burman, affectionately known as Bong, is the father of Mumbai’s climbing scene and his home is the local hangout for climbers.
History is unravelling here. Everyone chatters about the upcoming International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC) Bouldering World Cup to be hosted in Navi Mumbai from 13-16 May 2016. The eyes of the competitive international climbing community are on India for the first time ever. Over a few climbing sessions at the local crag, this physically fit, chalked up and highly motivated bunch tell me what their journey has been like to ‘get the wall home’.
All Roads Lead to Girivihar
And all this started at Girivihar, the oldest mountaineering club in Mumbai initiated in 1954. The first ‘International Girivihar Climbing Competition’ was organised in 2004 and saw 24 participants enter from India. By 2014, the participants grew to over 200 from 10 different countries. Bong’s longstanding vision of hosting a Climbing World Cup was crystallising into a possibility.
Girivihar campaigned for the IFSC World Cup in collaboration with the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) and was awarded the 2016 World Cup from amongst 83 member countries. It is the only new member country to be awarded a World Cup this year, and the fourth in Asia.
Taking The Leap Beyond Cricket
In a country crazed by cricket and kabbadi, a sport like climbing struggles to gain acceptance. The challenge is high but so are the spirits, it’s a fight to the end. I ask how the journey to raise funds has been so far, and I get a pregnant pause followed by a quiet, “Very, very difficult”. In the face of no support from the Indian government or corporations, Girvihar has turned to a crowdfunding campaign on Ketto.org, making this perhaps the first crowdfunded World Cup ever.
Along with the glory of the World Cup, comes the challenge of scaling resources to meet international standards in terms of equipment and prize money. Having raised 70 lakhs out of the projected 3 crores, and with only a month left, the team is not disheartened.
The support will come, the World Cup will happen – this they firmly believe in.
And so far, many benevolent gestures from brands and organisations have been pouring in. City development body CIDCO is providing a state of the art exhibition centre free of cost for the venue. Century Ply is supplying Girivihar with plywood for a warm-up wall. Agencies like R SQUARE Consulting and Meraki Sports and Entertainment are offering marketing services free of cost.
Indian climbers from Arunachal Pradesh to Bangalore have volunteered their time and creativity. In Mumbai, Rashmi Gupta is doing graphics for the IFSC merchandise. Divyanka Bedi is running the social media campaign and has raised nearly a lakh. Delhi-based Vrinda Bhageria has raised over one lakh in small denominations purely through coupon donations.
In sporting history, there is always one event or person that marks a turning point, just like Saina Nehwal did for badminton. I wonder if this World Cup is it for climbing in India. Surprisingly, there are a number of ‘rock’ stars in India whose talent goes unrecognised despite winning international competitions.
Ajij Shaikh is a case in point. He is 24, hails from a modest family in Pune and as the eldest sibling, shoulders the financial responsibility for his family. Despite tough odds, no willing sponsor and minimal resources to train, he is scaling new heights in competitions and is the first Indian to send an 8a boulder.
Somnath Shinde, is another inspiration who grew up in a shanty in Pune. With borrowed shoes, he got a taste of rock climbing and natural talent got him up to international competition level. He got absorbed into the sports quota of the Indian Army and won the Defence Zone bouldering competition. Now, he is likely to be selected in the bouldering trials by IMF to represent India.
The competition wall built to international specifications will remain in Mumbai and will be maintained free of cost by Girivihar. The Girivihar team is hoping to find a buyer, perhaps a university or a gym that is interested in keeping the wall for the city.
The Clock is Ticking
This is the point of no return; climbing champions from across the world are descending on our doorstep and our Indian climbers are focussed on securing home wins. With more than 50% of the funds yet to be raised (at the time of writing) and less than a month to go, you can be the support that India needs by donating here.
Make your way down to Navi Mumbai to watch experts analyse, contemplate and solve boulder problems that will make you dizzy! Even with the cash crunch that Girivihar is facing, they stand firm that entry to the competition will be a nominal donation. “Support from Indians is all we need to bring the wall home.”
Twitter: #IFSCwc #ISupportIFSCwc
This is the kind of event that India needs. More than another IPL, more than anything. Spread the word, get a crash course on climbing, help the crew by volunteering or funding – Do Your Bit to make this event count. We will be there, make sure you are there too.