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India – A Sports Destination

October 14, 2010

It is unbelievable. Till a fortnight ago, we were not sure whether we were ready to host the Commonwealth Games. Everything seemed to be going wrong. The Games Village was just not ready, the pedestrian bridge had collapsed and there was water logging in the city. Stray incidents of dengue added to the chaos.

The first couple of days the venues of the Commonwealth Games had few spectators. Then people started pouring in. By the time the Games ended it is reported that more than a million tickets had been sold. All the venues found good response. The main Jawaharlal Nehru stadium was almost full when the women quartet won the gold in relay race. Boxing had consistent public response as did wrestling. Tennis saw a packed stadium cheering Sania Mirza on every point. The badminton arena also saw India’s first lady Gursharan Kaur grace the match between India’s Saina Nehwal and Wong of Malaysia. The Nehwal match saw people standing as there was no room to sit. The hockey arena saw full capacity when India played Australia in the finals with Indian Prime Minister Sardar Manmohan Singh gracing the occasion. Even such unlikely events as archery saw a vociferous crowd supporting the Indian team.

What this has proved is that Indians love sports. They love to watch sports and given chance would love to pursue sports. We are a sports loving nation. The kind of response cricket matches get is also an indicator of the fact that Indians love sports. After the Commonwealth games one can safely say the presumption that Indians love cricket and no other sport, is just not true. Indians love sports, period.

The BCCI has done remarkably well in promoting cricket in India. They saw that people loved cricket, they roped in the sponsors, sold TV rights and found that they were sitting pretty financially. It was the maverick Jagmohan Dalmia who showed that there was money to be made in cricket. What was started by Dalmia was carried forward by Lalit Modi when he floated the Indian Premier League. The rest as they say is history. Remarkably, both Dalmia and Modi faced brunt of ire of BCCI and have had a rough time. But that is another story.

There is a growing realization in India that Indians are hungry for good clean entertainment that sports provide. More than entertainment, they love the competition in sports and love to cheer their team or player. There is also a clear opportunity in trying to rope in this interest in sports that Indians have shown. But this is not new. When the Indian Hockey Federation floated the Premier Hockey League it generated tremendous interest and one found people standing watching the game in Chennai. The PHL has since been discontinued for reasons that are not clear.

In cricket the situation is such that no cricketer is taken seriously if he has not played in India. That is the kind of importance India has in the world of cricket. The Mecca of cricket may still be Lords and the MCC but in real terms the focus has shifted from England to India and it can be safely said that India is the hub of world cricket as of now.

How has this shift been made possible? India is the largest democracy and with more than a billion people the sheer numerical strength of this sub-continental nation is a big plus. The burgeoning middle class means that there are at least 500 million people who have access to TV. That is a huge number by any standards. The increasing purchasing power of the average Indian means that companies and corporations are keen to sell their wares in this huge market. A crazy Indian public would go miles to cheer their heroes. India is bereft of icons, and when we have one, we go out of our way to watch them and to be a part of their success. In short we are the biggest capitalistic nation in the world, in terms of sheer numbers. The challenge is to channel this huge potential into a business opportunity and make India a global sporting hub.

What has worked in cricket can and should work in other sports too, be it badminton, tennis, boxing wrestling, hockey and even in such unlikely sports as archery. The question is; how do we go about it? Someone wondered out aloud whether we should follow the Chinese model of excellence in sports or should we rope in the private sector and make things happen. I guess, this debate is a non-starter. Fundamentally, we are not like China and perhaps we are lucky we are not a Communist state. The only way forwards is the way cricket has flourished in India. We have a success story and we must try and replicate that success in other sports. By not roping in corporate India in the Commonwealth Games we have missed an opportunity, as it were. Had the Indian corporate been a part of the Commonwealth Games, there would have been such a momentum that sports would have found a new dimension in India and we as a nation would have saved a lot of money and perhaps would have made some money for the nation. It is a missed opportunity with a hefty bill that the Indian tax payers will have to contend with.

The mistake made by our organizers of the Commonwealth Games should not be repeated. Indian sports deserves better. The interest generated by the Commonwealth Games should be cashed on, corporate sponsors found and professional leagues must be floated in all games including athletics. Tennis, badminton, hockey, boxing, wrestling and other such sports should not have much problem in finding sponsors. If we can organize sports in a manner that will attract audiences in towns and villages of India and generate TV viewership, then perhaps Indian sports has some chance to flourish. Indian hockey team should not need to travel to Europe to play competitive tournaments. There should be enough tournaments with cash incentives within India such that top players of the world compete in Indian leagues which give chance to Indian players to compete with the best. We have the infrastructure and we have the audience. We have players who, while they may not be the best in the world can still compete with the best on their own terms. It is a matter of will and a bit of planning. The millions of dollars spent on infrastructure should not go waste and they should be used on a regular basis such that it generates income for the federations as well as gives players a platform to hone their skills with the best. I am waiting for the day when there will be TV channels exclusively dedicated to hockey, football, swimming, boxing, wrestling and badminton. There is money to be made in sports. This can happen only in India. The question is, do we have the entrepreneurial skills and the will to take sports to the next level?

 

 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. sharma24 permalink*
    October 15, 2010 9:07 am

    Thanks, but I can’t access your site!!

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