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ET Panache Dialogues: Leading sports figures talk biz; stress need for facilities, scale and sponsorship

Knowledge of sports and money is required to create a strong sports system.

, ET Bureau|
Sep 17, 2019, 08.26 AM IST
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(In pic from left: Vinit Karnik, Jatin Paranjape, Aparna Popat, Aryaman Birla and Rajesh Shah)
In India, barring cricket, sports is still not a sustainable career for many. This raises the question of the business viability of backing a particular sport too. So, how do we up our game? Eminent names, deeply invested in sports, debate the issue at the ETPanache Dialogues.

Haphazard growth — a term often used in connection with Indian cities — is also apt for Indian sport. Like our cities, parts of Indian sport are in good shape. But the rest lies ignored like unfashionable suburbs. The Indian athlete’s perennial lack of a nurturing sports environment was apparent in the words of tennis player Sumit Nagal, who made a name for himself recently by giving Roger Federer a scare at the US Open, and who needs help from Virat Kohli’s foundation to keep his career going.

“If I didn’t have Virat Kohli supporting me, I don’t know what I would have done,” the 22-year-old said in an interview. “Early this year, when I was flying from Canada to Germany after a tournament, I had six dollars in my wallet. If people fund athletes, it will only help the sport flourish in the country.” Why then is Nagal, a promising player, not adequately funded by people in his own sport? To answer questions like these, sustainability of Indian sports became the subject for the second ETPanache Dialogues, held at The Chambers, Taj Lands End in Mumbai last Friday.

Knowledge of sports and money is required to create a strong sports system. Our panel possessed both. Badminton Olympian Aparna Popat, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan Royals’ young cricketer Aryaman Birla, former cricketer and current selector Jatin Paranjape, Mukand Ltd co-chairman and Patna Pirates owner Rajesh Shah and GroupM’s ESP Properties Business Head Vinit Karnik were the experts who made several points, which hopefully will be taken up by people concerned for the sake of Indian sport.

ETP2 01 Edit IMG 1985 6c (1)
(In pic from left: Jatin Paranjape, Rajesh Shah, Vinit Karnik, Aparna Popat and Aryaman Birla)


Excerpts from the interaction:
What is the one pressing need for a sportsperson in India today?
Aryaman Birla What is important is good facilities at a grass-root level. Good quality coaching is also very important. I think corporates can play a huge role in that. Also, with technology coming in, there is a lot of scope for coaching through technology.

ETP2 01 aryaman birla 3c
“Security is not just financial, but also about playing opportunities. The BCCI, with its structure, is not going to let me sit idle at home.”


Aparna Popat There is no one pressing need as I see it. There are different motivations for different athletes or different people involved in sports and each one is probably a very big vertical in itself.

6 - Aparna Popat
“Sponsors or the government are willing to fund a programme, but don’t want to spend on qualified people.”


What is it that Indian sports needs for an investor to be interested?

Rajesh Shah I think you draw investors from all categories. One is an investor who goes in and says, ‘I want to make money’. Generally, an investor in sports, unless it is a business like sports equipment, is not going to expect any great returns in the short term. They do it because they believe that sports will bring returns in the long term and do something for their existing businesses.

Vinit Karnik: To me, it is very important to find the purpose before you start anything. From a marketer’s point of view, if you compare emerging sports with cricket, there is a huge gap in terms of the monetisation. And that is because we have not defined the purpose of what we are doing.

Do you think being part of the sports ecosystem in India is viable for sportspersons and investors?
Jatin Paranjape: It’s work-in-progress. For every business, there is one must-have component — is there a demand? Or is there a demand on the horizon sometime soon? In India, the answer is yes to both. Today, if you just look at the numbers, they are staggering. You have 1,80,000 private schools in India with 90 million kids in the age group of five to 17, paying between Rs 1,500-5,000 a month in school fees. So that is nine crore Indians waiting to be serviced in a sport. Like Ed-Tech or Fin-Tech, you will see Sports-Tech, and hence a sporting kind of solution led by technology will be scalable. That is what an investor will be interested in.

2 - Jatin Paranjpe IMG_9694
“Like Ed-Tech or Fin-Tech, you will see Sports-Tech. That is what an investor will be interested in.”


What are the things that a sportsman must never have to worry about?

Birla The first thing has to be sponsorship. Especially in tier-2, tier-3 cities. Then infrastructure. [A player shouldn’t have to worry] If I come to Mumbai for coaching, will I get accommodation, what tournaments will I get to play? But sponsorship is the most important thing and everything follows after that.

As per the interim budget this year, Rs 2,216 crore was allocated to sports. Almost a third of that goes to the national federations. Rs 600 crore goes towards Khelo India, and Rs 450 crore goes to the Sports Authority of India (SAI). What are your thoughts on these spends?

Popat: We need to understand that the money does not actually go to the federations, it goes to the players.

Isn’t that a good thing?

Popat: It is a good thing. But in India, we are reluctant to pay the administration for running the activity. Unless there are the right admin people, the programme is not going to be executed the way it should be. I have been part of different sports administration bodies. I have come to understand that sponsors or the government are willing to fund a programme, but don’t want to spend on qualified people. Look at big companies. How do they get the best CEOs? They come at a cost.

There are a lot of sports leagues in India and some of them seem high on style and not so much on substance. What are the pros and cons of the leagues?

Shah: Style is important to attract attention, whether it is a famous sportsperson at a match or a film star. I’m not a sports expert but I feel even the quality of sport has improved with the leagues coming in.

4 - online Rajesh Shah IMG_9816
“Generally, an investor in sports is not going to expect great returns in the short term.”


Indian sports administrators are notorious for being inefficient and selfish. Are they still the villains of the piece?
Popat As an athlete, we’ve gone through the system. We’ve had certain experiences. Now, after moving to almost the other side — I was in a PSU, handling sports for them, and now am working with sports federations — let me say one thing clearly: If we don’t have sports federations and administrators, there is no sport.

There are good federations and there are not-so-good federations. To bucket them as villains or to discourage them [is not right]. Let’s see how to make them effective.

Paranjape: Apart from federations, there is another elephant in the room, which is the government. Sport is a state subject. It sits under the Department of Youth Affairs And Education. For us to produce more world champions, you need to have more kids participating in sport. And that’s the base of the pyramid.

District State Officers (DSO) are the owners of that base. If they are not aligned with what Khelo India has to do, then it is not going to work. CSR money will flow more rapidly when companies see state governments doing a very good job in sports. And that very good job or not-very-good job is in the hands of the DSOs. But we are seeing good things happening. You are seeing ownership from either the CM or the sports minister, who are shaking things up.

Karnik: There is the fabulous example of the Odisha government — the way they have invested in hockey. They have helped Delhi Dynamos to move from Delhi to Odisha. The kind of unconditional support that they have laid there is heartening. I think Odisha is leading the pack, from a state and investment standpoint.

3 - Vinit Karnik IMG_9807
“There is the fabulous example of the Odisha government — the way they have invested in hockey.”


What is the potential worth, monetarily speaking, of sports in India? Are we only scraping the tip? According to one analysis, Indian sport could be a $10 billion market.
Shah: It offers so much in terms of entertainment and excitement. Therefore it could become a very big industry. And yes, we are just scratching the surface.

Paranjape With India’s size, the potential is far in excess of $10 billion. The opportunity waiting to be turfed out is bigger than anywhere else.

Do our athletes need to tweak their attitude too? For example, there were reports of the TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme) being taken advantage of for personal gain, after which the rules were altered so that money wasn’t misused.

Popat The athletes need to be made secure [to stop them from cheating]. Their careers are short. Who’s going to take care of them after that? If there’s security, there won’t be greed.

Birla Security is not just financial, but also about getting opportunities to play. In cricket, there is cut-throat competition. Still, I know if I’m doing well, I’m going to get an opportunity. BCCI is not going to let me sit idle at home. There’s amazing structure. That’s comforting for a player.

Shah The structure in cricket came about 30 or 40 years ago when the BCCI got money from television rights. They started getting Rs 300-400 crore a year. That became a big income for them. Now, of course, it’s much more.

Karnik I don’t agree. The BCCI came into money only in the mid-90s. When they created the structure — Harris Shield, Giles Shield, Times Shield, Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy, Irani Trophy — they did not have that much money.

Can we be optimistic about Indian sport in the future?

Paranjape Yes. It’s a huge canvas waiting to be painted.

Birla I agree. There’s a lot of work to be done. But in the last 10 years or so, huge growth has happened.

Popat Yes. Sports has become a huge conversation point.

Shah I’m optimistic. It’s so important for us as a society, and fitness has now become a part of it.

Karnik Find the purpose, the wins will follow. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

At ET Panache Dialogues, Aparna Popat Stresses On Need For Support Staff; Aryaman Birla Hai...

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The Future Of Sports

16 Sep, 2019
In the second of a series of panel discussions, ET Panache took up a subject close to every Indian’s heart - improving the health of various sports in India. Five esteemed guests weighed in on the conversation. Snapshots from the second edition of ET Panache Dialogues.When: Friday, September 13, 2019Location courtesy: Taj Lands End, Mumbai
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