Mumbai: Cricket is not the only sport in India—that is the message that Olympic officials in the country of 1.1 billion people are trying to get across.
India has the largest global television cricket audience but, with the world’s fastest growing major economy after China, is attracting interest from other sports keen to tap into the market, including soccer, Formula 1 and golf.
Indian Olympic Association president Suresh Kalmadi believes the time has come for India to move on from being a one-sport country and expects the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in two years’ time to be the catalyst for the change.
“We want to change (corporate) mindset through the Commonwealth Games. Unfortunately (funding from) the industry all goes to cricket. If they get one gold medal for the country, the kind of mileage the company will get will be considerably more than what they get in cricket. Hopefully then the private sector will come in a big way to support Olympic sports in the future.”
Kalmadi said money was the key to improving India’s dismal showing at Olympic Games. India has won only four individual medals in Olympic history—or six according to some record books.
Kalmadi believes harnessing sport for economic and social growth is the way to overcome this challenge. “We got votes in the Caribbean when we won the right to host the Commonwealth Games because many people said they were interested in coming to India because they see it as a business destination,” he said.
Rising disposable incomes among a growing middle class makes India attractive to many sports looking to expand. Fifa president Sepp Blatter dubbed India a “sleeping giant” crucial for the development of soccer in Asia, while International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge was supportive of India’s ambition to host its first Olympics in 2020.
Britain will support India’s bid to stage the 2020 games, London mayor Ken Livingstone, whose city hosts the 2012 edition, said in November. London Olympics chiefs have promised coaching and other assistance for India’s Commonwealth Games, which Kalmadi said he was confident would be profitable and would pave the way for more such world-class, multi-discipline events in the country. REUTERS