A strong fan base and holiday options make Kochi a choice destination for high profile sporting events

“Kochi, show us the moves… the camera is coming to you.” The crowd at the Regional Sports Center, home of the final leg of the Rupay Prime Volleyball League (PVL), went wild. As the countdown begins to the crucial game between the Kochi Blue Spikers and the Mumbai Meteors, strobe lights, disco music, giant screens and a hyper presenter create an electrifying atmosphere.

Kochi is fast becoming a preferred destination for hosting high profile sporting events. Aside from PVL, the city has hosted the inaugural Indian National Basketball League (INBL) 5×5 format and INBL 3×3 format, as well as the ISL season openings. “Kerala has a very strong sports culture and Kochi has a fantastic fan base for the game,” said Tuhin Mishra, MD, Baseline Ventures and founding partner of PVL. “The infrastructure is good and the state sports center is compact and efficient.”

Former volleyball player and Olympic champion Ci Michel

place to relax

Another reason is also the popularity of Kochi as a holiday destination. “The games are competitive and require full concentration and hard work. Players, coaches, team managers are all under stress. Kochi is also a place to relax,” says Tuhin, adding that the mix of tourism, relaxation, Ayurveda and sport works beautifully. According to him, the top management of the volleyball world and the members of the Federation International of Volleyball (FIVB), who travel to the finals on March 5, are looking forward to coming to God’s Own Country. “You really want to explore Kerala. Bengaluru team chose the houseboat experience to relax.”

Members of the Chennai Blitz team on a houseboat cruise

“Kerala is the stronghold of volleyball in India. The best players come from here. In every league there is a derby when two teams from the same state meet… it’s live energy,” says David Lee, American volleyball player and current coach of Bengaluru Torpedoes, who played for the Kochi team in 2018 and for Kozhikode in 2012. Pankaj Sharma, who hails from Himachal Pradesh but captains the Bengaluru team, agrees with David on the crowd. “They buy tickets and come,” he says. “Everyone knows the game.” Both David and Pankaj enjoy Kerala cuisine. While for the former “it was swirls, spicy clams and beef,” the latter mentions Kerala’s parotta.

Olympic gold medalist and former American volleyball player Ci Michele is impressed with the standards, the new short format and the city. “I’ve loved every minute of commenting in this league. It is carried out professionally with physiotherapists, training facilities, good hotels. It’s all about the players,” said Ci, who focused on “all the paneer preparations” during her visit to Fort Kochi. Another commentator, England’s Lewis Litt, agrees with the new format, which “will revolutionize the sport”. “The format and the design (selection process) ensure a level playing field,” he says. As a Londoner, Lewitt is familiar with Indian curry but enjoyed the “variations” and found the backwaters “magical”.

Professional game

Commentators – Ci Michel, Lewie Lett, Atish Thukral, Manish Batavia and Sunil Taneja – at the 2023 Prime Volleyball League Finals on a boat trip in Alappuzha

Jerome Vineeth from Tamil Nadu is the attacker on Calicut Heroes. He finds Kerala’s “volleyball madness” amazing. “They’re crazy about volleyball,” he says, adding that 900 fans turned up for a game in Bengaluru when Calicut was playing. “They came from 700 km away.” He mentions the high TRPs and Tuhin agrees that “Kerala shows big numbers”.

Despite all of this, David feels that “a general volleyball culture is lacking” and that the “simple attack” style is archaic. But, he says, the PVL has a role to play in showcasing Indian volleyball to the world

Commentator Atish Thukaral

through the tires

Kochi also hosted the INBL and Rana Thaliath, Secretary of the District Basketball Association and Coordinator of the INBL, recalls, “We hosted 196 teams of 750 players in the first edition (in 3X3 format) and coordinated their residency and training sessions , schedules, the games and so on. We did it at Don Bosco in Vennala and pooled our resources to make it a success. The smooth running of the event was noted and Kochi was chosen to host the regular 5×5 format in October 2022.”

He also points out that Kochi, which has now built a strong reputation for hosting such events, cannot rest on just one regional sports hub. Although the stadium recently added sky courts for badminton, refurbished all 20 rooms and renewed the wooden playing surfaces at Rs 60 lakh, “we need more courts, playing fields and such facilities. The stadium that will be built at CUSAT will help us to host larger and high profile events like the PVL.”

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