Who doesn’t know about Kerala’s famed Nehru Trophy Boat Races and team exatraveller is happy to report to you that this year, 2019, the event was flagged off by state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan amid the star presence of batting legend Sachin Tendulkar. In 2019, the famed race became the first water sport formatted on the lines of IPL cricket and is christened as the Champions Boat League (CBL).
Billed as a game-changing initiative, the CBL (www.championsboatleague.in) seeks to professionalise Kerala’s largely scattered snake-boat races, while commercialising them without losing the conventional spirit.
Nine CBL snake-boats raced ahead with rhythmic rows of oarsmen cheered by an enthusiastic crowd along the banks of the sprawling Punnamada lake in this coastal city, splashing blue waters in a spirited competition. Organised by Kerala Tourism, the CBL features 12 rounds of races slated across Saturdays till November 23.
In the first leg, Pallathuruthi Boat Club won the 67th Nehru Boat Race and also the first race of the maiden CBL at Alappuzha as the pioneering three-month sporting event got off to a racy start in the sprawling Punnamada Lake here.
The winners, whose CBL name is Tropical Titans, earned nine points, clocking 4.25.83 minutes to cover the distance of 1,050 metres. Tropical Titans were followed by Coast Dominators (United Boat Club, Kainakary: 4.28.40) and Raging Rowers (Police Boat Club) 4.29.84, securing eight and seven points, respectively. The next leg is at Thazhathangadi near Kottayam on September 7.
The CM hailed the pioneering boat league as an event that reinforces the spirit of unity among people. “True, you compete with each other with your boats. But at the end of the day, it is all about harmonious relationship between us human beings,” he noted.
Tendulkar, said the CBL marks the turn of a new leaf in the history of Kerala’s boat-races. “I have led teams where the players’ number totals 16, while it is around 100 in a boat race. That requires tremendous understanding between the members and skills of coordination from the part of the captain,” added the 46-year-old winner of the Bharat Ratna, the nation’s top-most civilian honour.
Hailing the gender equality seen in the boat-races, Tendulkar said, “I see a lot of women rowing the boats here. It’s very encouraging. Women are not just to manage kitchen. A healthy woman at home means a healthy family. That happens only when you venture out of your home and bond well with the public at large.”
The CBL’s inauguration was marked by water adventure sports that included jet ski flyboard and paragliding. Earlier, Tendulkar took a round of the starting point on a boat that had over a dozen Kathakali artistes dancing in colourful costume.
Kerala Tourism Minister Kadakampally Surendran hailed the CBL as an eminent product that will help the state brighten its four months of off-season from June marked by monsoon rains. “Tourism provides Kerala with 10 per cent of its GDP. We plan to raise the sector’s contribution to 13 per cent in a couple of years,” he added.
Kerala Finance Minister T M Isaac Thomas noted that three years have gone into the conception of the CBL for the boat league to eventually roll out. “Today, if you see a new wave of professionalism and spirit in the races, it is courtesy the CBL,” he said. “The government is sure this championship will earn international attention.”
Kerala Tourism Secretary Rani George said the CBL is hopeful of conducting auctions that will earn the event new owners who can run the teams more effectively. “Already, CBL is a government-owned company,” she pointed out.
Kerala Tourism Director P Bala Kiran said the CBL has begun getting new sponsors. “We are optimistic of finding more number of them once the boat league is on track,” he added.
Kansai Nerolac Paints, a key sponsor of CBL, said the company found it great to see the traditional sport of boat race gain “a fresh colourful look with international standards”. “Our long-standing association and commitment with Kerala, strengthened over the years with our wide presence across the state, marks this important association,” said Peeyush Bachlaus, AVP (Marketing) of Nerolac.
The top CBL winner of every leg is entitled to Rs 5 lakh, followed by Rs 3 lakh and Rs 1 lakh. While all participants are entitled to a bonus prize of Rs 4 lakh per match, the three-month boat league has prize monies totalling Rs 5.9 crore that ranks CBL India’s fourth-highest paid in all sports.
The schedule for 2019:
September 14 (Karuvatta, Alappuzha), September 28 (Piravam, Ernakulam district), October 5 (Marine Drive, Kochi), October 12 (Kottappuram, Thrissur district), October 19 (Ponnani, Malappuram), October 26 (Kainakari, Alappuzha), November 2 (Pulinkunnu, Alappuzha district), November 9 (Kayamkulam, Alappuzha), November 16 (Kallada, Kollam district) and November 23 (President’s Trophy Boat Race, Kollam).