Amid escalating tensions between India and Pakistan, ace cueist Pankaj Advani believes politics should not be mixed with games and Indo-Pak sporting ties should go on.
Advani, who clinched his 13th world title after defending his World 6-Red Snooker title on August 11 in Karachi, believes the two nations should engage in more sporting and cultural exchange to improve relations.
"I don't think these two (sport and politics) really need to be mixed. When we talk about sport, we talk about integrity, we talk about cutting across barriers, we talk about brotherhood, improving relations and I think that's the perfect example. When India and Pakistan play in any sport it really augers well for the relationship of both nations in getting closer to each other," Advani told PTI in an exclusive interview.
"In Karachi, they left no stone unturned in making sure that we were completely safe and we enjoyed some great hospitality," added Bengaluru's 'Golden Boy'.
The 30-year-old Padma Shree awardee, who is a proud recipient of the Arjuna Award (2004) and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna (2006), has also taken up the case of his fellow cue sport stars who have been allegedly sidelined by the Arjuna committee.
Speaking for Asian billiards champion Sourav Kothari, and the women's duo of Vidya Pillai and Chitra Magimairaj, the trio whose Arjuna nominations were rejected recently, Advani said that their achievements are in no way less than that of any Olympian.
"My take on Indian sport is quite different right now. As a person who plays a non-Olympic sport I think there is a huge discrimination between sports there are part of quadrennial events versus sports that are not. The irony is that a body like the government discriminates the most. I have questions to ask. Are we working lesser than the people who play Olympic sports? Are our achievements not as significant as theirs? Or are the policies implemented encouraging people to perform just once in four years rather than churn out consistent world beaters?," the star vehemently argued.
"It is tougher to win year after year, tournament after tournament. Say if a youngster wants to take up billiards or snooker, it's killing the aspiration of many youngsters. So when a person dream of making it big in the sport, they want to say I want to become a world champion rather than aiming at an Asian Games Gold or an Olympic medal. They first want to be the world's best," he added.
Advani also wants cue sport players to be included in the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) as according to him, there is a big difference in the incentive given to cue stars in events than what the Olympic players get by the government.
"People like Vidya Pillai has done what no other female cueist has done. She has to be on that list, but she is not. Dronacharya people, someone like Manoj Kothari, just because it's not an Olympic or Asian Games discipline, it's shot down. The funds given by the Sports Authority of India in Delhi to the Billiards and Snooker Federation of India have been cut down been by almost half.
"Our cash incentives have not come from 2011, now five years from the Sports Ministry in Delhi. But they have funds to give to the TOPS Scheme where they have 30 crores to give to athletes to train for the Olympics. I mean seriously what's going on on. If they make policies to make sports a way of life then they must make sure that justice and equality prevails," Advani fumed.
Winning his first world title at the age of 12 and making the number rise to 13 in his 30th year of life, Advani said that he has overcome the fear of losing.
"I just want to go there, enjoy myself, give it my best and I think after playing snooker and billiards at the highest level there is one thing that becomes really clear that you could lose any match at any time.
"And now I am prepared to lose, which also means that I have shed that fear. You know wanting to hold on to a particular title, wanting to lose a match. I'd rather go out there and say ok fine, I am going to give it my best, result may or may not be in my favour. At least have the satisfaction of giving it my hundred percent and that for me is very fulfilling," he said.
Advani also believes that billiards should go the shorter format way to thrive in the Asian continent.
"I think billiards needs to go the shorter format way as well. I feel that the 100-up is the way forward. I think in India, Pakistan and the sub-continent we are not made for sports that require a lot of patience. For example, in the UK the world championships are best-of-19 frames but we are not cut out for that.
"I don't think we would appreciate the game which is very long and tactical. But if you look at the shorter format like 6-Red in Snooker and Time Format in Billiards, there is definitely a lot of potential. It's only a matter of time someone comes up and say lets package it well, advertise it properly, get it up on television, let's have good production quality and it will have a market," he opined.