India’s triumph at the 1983 Cricket World Cup may seem like a distant memory for millions of Indians, but for someone who is from that generation and fortunate to watch the finals (against West Indies), it was history in the making.
Cut to 2022, the sports scene in India offers a whole new picture, a more diverse and vibrant one and at the peak of its confidence. The recently concluded Commonwealth Games (CWG) is a good case in point. India’s medal haul during the same period (early 80s to now) has vaulted from 16 in the 1982 CWG to 61 in the 2022 edition. This is a new story India is telling the world, its arrival in the big winners’ league and very much here to stay.
While India’s most favourite sport cricket has metamorphosed into more ‘colourful’ and trimmer versions, relatively less popular sports like archery, badminton, shooting, golf, hockey, football, and tennis have also been growing by leaps and bounds, thanks to the country’s impressive investments in sports infrastructure and long-term missions like Khelo India initiated by the government. I believe this transformational story will be incomplete without acknowledging the role of brands, Indian and multinationals, who have stepped up their role in a big way.
Big and small brands have also played an important role in supporting traditional sports like kho kho, kabaddi etc. Today, whether it is in the mainstream media, print or broadcast, and more so on social media, one cannot miss witnessing the growing popularity of league matches and tournaments covering traditional sports in such impressive details. Among the many outcomes of these developments are the immense opportunities for the youth of our country to consider sports as a serious vocation, an inspiration to focus on their health, including adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle, and above all finding a sense of purpose in life through sports and sporting heroes.
The ever-expanding sporting landscape in a country as diverse as India is also providing new opportunities for young women and men in rural India to make their mark in life.
For example, Madhumita Kumari who won the silver medal in archery at the 2018 Asiad Games in Jakarta is a product of Tata Steel’s sports ecosystem. Ms Kumari, daughter of a miner who is employed in Tata Steel’s coal mines, had started learning the basics of the archery at a Tata Steel Feeder Centre in 2007. Her success story is very instructive in two ways. One, India’s potential and success in a sport like archery is directly linked to our diverse demography and in this instance from parts of India that has a large tribal population. Tata Steel saw this link early on and invested heavily in its future and we have started seeing the results. Two, even a champion like Ms Kumari had to train hard for more than a decade to start seeing success in international competitions. The lesson here is simple – success is an outcome of a combination of our unique strengths that must be exploited correctly and there is nothing to replace discipline and hard work.
Success in sports is never overnight. While athletes understand this quite well, those of us who play the supporting role whether it is the government or the private brand owners, have to internalise this truth to expect any big success in the future. The challenge as I see it is not just about the financial commitment but a deep belief in our youth and patience to wait for a decade or more before we see results. For every Madhumita Kumari, there will hundreds more who will not win a medal. And that shouldn’t discourage us from continuing to invest (financially and otherwise) in them, no matter what the outcome is.
The involvement of brands in the growth of the country’s sporting stature also ensures a great level of professionalism that had been lacking in the past. Sports is as much about grit and discipline as it is about science and technology. Today, we are able to draft the best coaches from around the world, provide world-class facilities to train, hire the best physiotherapists and doctors specialising in sports injuries and mentors to groom the next generation of potential champions. While the government is also moving steadfastly in this direction, the role of private brands cannot be overstated. The challenge here is more about bringing in more private sector participants into the country’s sporting ecosystem.
I joined Tata Steel as a trainee engineer five years after India had won its first Cricket World Cup. Since then, I have been fortunate to get a ring-side view of what it takes to groom champions. In these last three decades I have had innumerable opportunities to celebrate with the winners and lend a shoulder to cry on to those who came home without a medal. But what I know for sure is this – in the long run India always wins.