Guwahati (Assam) [India], February 25 (ANI): Defending champions Bharati Vidyapeeth lost the core of their rugby team that won the gold in Lucknow last year as most of them passed out and came to the 4th Khelo India University Games (KIUG) Ashtalakshmi 2023, without any expectations of a podium finish.

But the team with almost all new players was marshalled brilliantly by Prashant Arvind Singh, who works as a gym instructor in Mumbai, to clinch the bronze medal at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium and the joy on the faces of his teammates was understandable.

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Bharati Vidyapeeth, who had won gold medals in the first and third editions of KIUG, had to put together the current team at a very short notice and had players from different cities. The players were training individually at their respective centres and had managed to train together only for 15 days at the Bombay Gymkhana grounds before flying to Guwahati. Mumbai-based Prashant, who comes from a family of sportspersons, took it upon himself to build this team and in Guwahati was the nucleus around whom the team rallied during their games.

"Our team is completely new. The players are from different cities like Kolhapur, Satara, Pune and Mumbai. It is a big thing for us to reach the podium because we reached here after only 15 days of preparation. The players kept practicing in their cities and due to this, there was a lack of bonding in the team. We will return next year with better bonding and preparation and win our third gold," said Prashant as quoted by a Khelo India press release.

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He has also represented India at the U-19 level and was part of the silver medal-winning Maharashtra team in the National Games held in Goa last year. Prashant's father, who is a newspaper vendor, was an athlete and his mother was a district-level kabaddi player.

Both had always encouraged their children to take up sports as a career. However financial problems had forced Prashant to take a break from the sport and focus on earning a living by doing odd jobs as a delivery agent for a few years.

"I fell in love with this game in my childhood. But the financial condition of the family was not good. Hence, I stayed away from sports and took up a job for a while. From 2017 to 2020, I worked as a food delivery agent to support my family and even today I work as a gym instructor. But sports is my first love," said Prashant.

"I have always had the support of my family. Due to household responsibilities, first, my elder brother left the game and then I (followed). However, on the repeated insistence of my Mumbai teammate Govind, I began playing again in 2021," he added.

Prashant's focus now is on preparing for the recently-announced Premier Rugby League. "The announcement of Rugby League is a big news for us. I have been playing for a long time, so I am hoping to get a chance in the league. Rugby needs a league like this. This will generate money and then players will be able to focus only on their game."

The Khelo India University Games - Ashtalakshmi 2023 will feature an array of sporting disciplines including Athletics, Rugby, Basketball, Volleyball, Swimming, Badminton, Hockey, Fencing, Kabaddi, Football, Tennis, Mallakhamb, Judo, Table Tennis, Boxing, Shooting, Weightlifting, Archery, Wrestling, and Yogasana, the event embodies the essence of unity in diversity. The Games, being played across seven sister states of the North-East, will end on February 29 after it started on February 17. At KIUG 2024, medals will be on offer in 20 sports with around 4,500 athletes from over 200 Indian universities competing for medals. (ANI)

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