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Floods wash off the first Boat Race League in Kerala

PB Jayakumar     September 5, 2018

Traditional snakeboats were to compete in 12 professional league tournaments of the maiden Champions Boat League (CBL).

If the rain god hadn't unleashed its fury on 'god's own country', Kerala would have launched its first boat race league, modelling Indian Premier League (IPL) and Indian Super League (ISL), for attracting foreign tourists.

Planned by the state government's Tourism Department as Champions Boat League (CBL), the plans were to convert various traditional snakeboat races happening in the backwaters and rivers over the years, into a professional sporting league set-up. Sachin Tendulkar was supposed to kick start the league and the season, as chief guest of the most famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race in the Vembanad backwaters of Aalappuzha on August 11 -- a spectacle usually witnessed by thousands of overseas tourists every year.

But, floods played spoilsport during the Onam season and all the boat races in Kerala's backwaters and prominent rivers were either cancelled or postponed. As per a government directive issued on Tuesday, all state sponsored events and festivities would be called off for a year to save money for the disaster relief.

"As of now, we are not clear whether the maiden CBL can be staged this year as the state is going through one of its worst crisis," said Abraham George, member National Tourism Advisory Council and managing director, Intersight Tours and Travels.

Travel and tourism sector estimates Rs 500 crore direct losses due to property damages, mainly in the worst affected Kuttanad, Kumarakom and Aalappuzha backwater regions. Apart from this, Rs 1500 crore worth of business is likely to go down the drain due to cancellations during the peak season. Adding more woes, news reports about spread of Leptospirosis (rat fever) is causing more tourist booking cancellations.

Boat race in the state locally known as Vallam Kali is a traditional sporting event, which attracts millions of tourists during the festival season of Onam and lasts up to November every year. Famous Chundan Vallams (beaked snakeboats) are a unique cultural symbol of the state with its tradition dating back to many centuries. Each of these giant boats has about 30-35 metre (100-120 feet) length and can carry up to 128 trained paddlers aboard at a time. A total of 26 snakeboats had registered to participate in the maiden CBL.

Every year, each team spends about Rs 10-15 lakhs on training and food for the rowers. Besides, there are 56 snakeboats, known as palliyodams, attached to the Aranmula temple in Pathanamthitta and these boats participate only in the rituals related to the Uthrittathi boat festival during the last day of Onam. Many of these boats were damaged due to the floods in Pamba river and are estimated to have caused damages to the tune of over Rs. 3 crore.

As per the plan, nine snakeboats with the fastest timings in the Nehru Trophy Boat Race were to compete in a league of 12 different races of the maiden CBL, with the title clash scheduled at Kollam as part of the President's Trophy race on Kerala's birthday, November 1. CBL was planned at an expense of Rs 20 crore and the government had already allotted Rs 10 crore.

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