21-time World Champion Billiards and Snooker star Pankaj Advani is all set to go for his 22nd title as he prepares for the World Championships that are scheduled to begin in September. The 34-year-old won his first championship at the age of 11 and went on to become the youngest World Champion at the age of 18 after he beat a Pakistani opponent in the finals on 25 October 2003 in Jiangmen, China. In 2003 he won the India Junior Snooker Championship which made him the youngest National Snooker champion. With so many accolades in his bag, the inspirational athlete is looking forward to adding more World Championships to his name, as it motivates him and promotes the game as well.
In an interview with Republic World, Pankaj Advani revealed that challenges motivate him to become a better player as it allows him to reinvent his playing form while also adding new dimensions to the game. The 34-year-old said that playing on the bigger stages gives him the thrill and the motivation to constantly improvise his game. The youngest World Champion spoke about the proud feeling of representing India and winning medals for the nation. While essaying on how the players get caught up in the game, Pankaj Advani also revealed that over the years he had learnt to enjoy the game while playing it as well as raising the bar with every performance.
"It is a huge honour for me to represent India in the World Championships and in other international events. I love competing as I still believe that I can improve my game. It gives me more confidence and it allows me to keep evolving both as an athlete and as a person. I enjoy the thrill of every competition. We (players) tend to get caught up in the matches momentarily but over the years I have learnt to enjoy the game while I play and I just hope to become better and raise the bar with each game. It gives me immense joy and satisfaction to represent India, win medals for the country and see India's tricolour fly high with the national anthem echoing", he said.
Cue sports are very popular across the country with various clubs, pubs and centres in different cities all over India offer the game for the public. Despite enjoying a large fan following, the game is treated as a recreational game and it receives lesser attention as compared to other sports such as cricket, football or hockey. Pankaj Advani suggested televising cue sports in order to expand the popularity of the game in order to educate the sports lovers. He also alleged the Billards and Snooker Federation of India for negligence to make efforts to promote the game in the country and offer formal training.
Responding to a question on how the game could be developed in India, Pankaj Advani said, "Blame the Billards and Snooker Federation of India. Something similar to a TV league will be very helpful. Televise the sport and educate sports lovers. There are lots of skills, rules, fun times included in the game. The attention span of the people has reduced and viewers do not want to spend too much time on the screen. If cricket had to go the T20 way to capture attention then I think Billards and snooker should also receive the same treatment."
With the intention of getting more people to play cue sports professionally, Pankaj Advani along with his friend has set up Cue Schools where children in schools will get a chance to learn the sport, train with experts and be given a chance to participate in tournaments across the country. Pankaj Advani said that school-going children were exposed to other mainstream sports and did not have access to cue sports. Further, he said that by beginning with the grassroots level, it would be possible to give the young kids a taste of the game alongside exposing them to this form of sports. Pankaj Advani explained that the game allows the children to grow stronger mentally and that it was essential for them to be given access to the sport at a young age so that a future champion can be reared.
"We have started 'Cue Schools by Pankaj Advani' in Bengaluru. We hope to take this initiative across different cities to give youngsters access to the game along with a taste of the game and who knows, we might be able to create a World Champion. The whole idea is for people to get a chance to play the wonderful sport. We wish to open small academies in schools, appoint coaches to help the children and make regular visits to see how the children are learning."
Hailing the Fit India initiative launched by Prime Minister Modi, Pankaj Advani said that it was a very significant movement as it asks everyone to stay healthy and keep fit. Pankaj Advani explained how a combination of physical and mental fitness was required in order to remain healthy, especially for cue sports players. The youngest World Champion revealed that he does his daily dose of exercise and hits the gym three-four times in a week to keep himself fit. Advani also suggested for people to keep an eye on their diet as it constituted an important part of one's fitness.
"I feel Fit India is a great movement. It encourages everyone to be more conscious of health and take it seriously. We forget to take care of our health. It is not just about physical health but is also about mental health. The game of billiards and snooker requires mental health. You need a combination of mental and physical fitness that keeps one healthy. Watch what you eat, as it influences your lifestyle and fitness. Sports is the best way to stay healthy", said Pankaj Advani
For a long time now, players have been voicing for cue sports to be included in the roster of quadrennial events such as the Commonwealth Games (CWG), the Olympics, the Asian Games and so on. Despite World Champions like Pankaj Advani making repeated pleas calling for the inclusion, cue sports have been left out. Pankaj Advani took to explain as to why India should push for the sport to be included in the main events. Pointing at the number of medals that India won in both billiards and snooker, Advani said that the nation should promote its strength as players have proved in the past that they can win medals for the country. Advani also highlighted how cue sports were world sports with rules, regulations and a lot of fan following.
"We were part of the Asian Games from 1998. I won a gold medal in 2010 in China. Along with a gold medal in billiards, snooker players won silver and bronze medals. It is a sport that India can get medals in. It is a world sport with rules, regulations and international level competitions. We work hard just like everyone else despite not being included in the main roster", he said.