Tennis player Rohan Bopanna agrees. ‘Facilities have improved and professional coaches are now being hired. Of course, we’re far from being the US or Europe. But, still, it’s better late than never.’
In November, Bopanna, 30, rose to a career best ranking of 14 in the ATP doubles standings, and his partnership with Pakistani player Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi has captured the popular imagination of the country.
Marketers have rushed to capture the brand potential of stars like Bopanna—a far cry from the days when he would have had to scurry from one potential sponsor or patron to another trying to arrange funds for travel, coaching and tournament fees. ‘There’s a good opportunity for marketers who can now get big stars on board from small sports instead of it always being the other way round,’ wrote Harish Bijoor, a sports marketing consultant, in an interview with The Hindu Business Line.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
This infusion of corporate money is critical if young Indian athletes are to have the chance to develop their promise. ‘When you have somebody backing you, it helps bring your talent out,’ Bopanna agrees. ‘You don’t need to focus on the other issues.’
Ironically, many now credit cricket—so often the excuse for why others sports are neglected—with showing how the private sector can be utilized. ’Cricket itself became more professional,’ says Habibullah. ’After the Indian Premier League was introduced, a larger talent pool with a longer shelf life was suddenly created. That tipped the balance.’
Today, the Indian cricket team is the richest cricketing squad in the world, while the coffers of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) are brimming over.
Yet despite the evolving economics of sport, the reality is that the government will need to continue to be the primary driver behind infrastructure changes, for now at least. For example, although corporate endowments have been used to establish institutes like the Tata Football Academy, the government still needs to play a facilitator’s role to make it sufficiently attractive for private investors to come on board. ‘Market forces can supplement those efforts, not replace them,’ Habibullah says.
Meanwhile, although cricket’s IPL has brought with it huge injections of cash and prestige, there are worries that giving private investors a free hand can hurt a sport. Yet mired in controversy as it might be, Kamath says the IPL has still demonstrated how sports can be packaged as the ultimate entertainment. ‘Our ultimate strength is our population. All sport is run by eyeballs.’