Take the business of sports seriously

Written by Suhel Seth | Updated: Mar 10 2005, 05:30am hrs
In a country of one billion people, we still have just one Rathore, one Sania or perhaps one Dhanraj Pillay or even a Karthikeyan, who hold the Indian flag for all of us to either feel proud of or even vindicate our status as a sporting nation, but the real tragedy is that in effect we dont take our sport seriously or even want to. Nothing was clearer when even the recent Union Budget had an outlay of just Rs 40 crore: which, by the way, is one-fifth of Unilevers advertising spend in India!

The business of sports needs urgent attention. And here people need to come forward to help. Because the government will do precious little. If left to the government, Karthikeyan would have never been on the F1 circuit, and for far too long we as a nation have been spending too much time and money on cricket.

India is supposed to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games and what is surprising is that the mandarins of the finance ministry expect us to train medal-winning athletes within this paltry sum. The Kalmadis of this world have been breaking their backs by trying to muster enough money and add to that the display they have to put on whenever there is an international group coming into check our infrastructure. The Kalmadis of this world need to be supported but what is even more critical is the need for a campaign which addresses the fact that whilst we play games at street-corners, there is no sporting instinct that we either create or inspire. There is no emotional connect with sports as a way of life, which is why I guess there is no real support available: either through sponsorship money or even gate money.

We, in India, can never ever stage a successful Commonwealth Games if five years prior to this, all we are allocating is Rs 40 crore. It is even less than the television rights for the present Indo-Pak series, and no one seems to care. Delhi is going to be the host city for the Games and we have no urban renewal programme in place: we dont have enough hotel rooms; we have no Village left since the Asiad Village is now the abode of bureaucrats and their ilk who got those homes for a fraction of what they would have fetched in the open market. So we are sitting on a time-bomb just waiting to explode!

The process of branding the Games and as I said, more importantly, the emotional connect has not begun either, which makes me worry only because like in everything else, we will wake up too late, and the sad part is we have no Rajiv Gandhi who can energise the State to deliver as he did during the 1982 Asian Games.

Corporate India will continue to be reluctant in this regard only because they know they will be hemmed in by some silly government rule. Why on earth can ITC not sponsor such sporting events and why must populist NGOs take up cudgels against them just because they are in the business of tobacco. The Tatas continue to be at the forefront of sport sponsorship other than cricket and it is paying rich dividend. But on the whole, even corporate India is shirking its responsibilities in this context. A beverage company will be happy to sponsor an ageing rockstars concert, as was the case in Mumbai recently, but ask them for money for, lets say, the Commonwealth Games, and they will shy away.

There must be an incentive built into the Finance Bill for the coming year which recongises that we as a nation need to look good when it is time for the Commonwealth Games and we need to support people who want us to look good. There is no point in even offering to host the Games if we are going to mess things up and given the financials, my guess is we will not go very far. Add to this the attitude we have towards sports in this country.

One Sania does not a sporting nation make and this is where the fault perhaps rests. We are happy with one icon per sport with the result that many a time, the movement of sports is sacrificed at the altar of celebrity-management rather than effective sport management.

The time for a cohesive campaign to address this has come. It is time we looked at the whole issue from a marketing perspective rather than just the narrow one of hosting the Games. It is only then that we will be able to inspire people to come forward and render the much-needed support that sport in India needs and possibly deserves.

So, while we may have enough reason to celebrate the hosting of the Indo-Pak series, we are clearly brushing the core issue under the carpet. And this time even the carpet is not astro-turf since that too has become unaffordable, thanks to Chidambarams generosity!

The writer is CEO, Equus Redcell