Who is Hakimuddin Habibulla? He is an Olympic swimmer, Ekalavya award winner and co-founder of GoSports, a Bangalore-based sports management company that focuses on finding and nurturing Indian talent in sports. They have a rather nifty slogan: “From potential to performance”.
Morale booster: (from left) Habibulla, Kamath and Ollapally want to nurture athletes.
I first heard about GoSports from a friend in Singapore and looked up their website (www.gosports.in). They are a trio of young urban professionals with big dreams and bleeding hearts. They love sports and want to nurture Indian athletes. Funding and professional management are their two biggest challenges, they say. Through their efforts, they have the management angle covered. As for funding, they are constantly looking.
Choosing where to donate your hard-earned moolah is a tough choice when there are so many deserving causes. There are a lot of us who love sports. But as earning adults, do we contribute towards sports or primary education? Do we nurture athletes or the environment? Do we donate money to sponsor swimmers or polio shots? The question becomes moot when you have enough money — like Nathan Myhrvold — to contribute towards all three and then whims like dinosaur-bone discovery. But if you have to pick and choose, logic would argue that you choose primary education over sports, right? Right?
Talk to Nandan Kamath if you have such a conflict. He is the other co-founder of GoSports. A graduate of the National Law School; a Rhodes Scholar; and a graduate of the Harvard Law School, I dare say that Kamath will have enough arguments to convince a nun to give up her habit and you, to part with your wallet. If you are conflicted about where funding athletes falls in the Maslow’s hierarchy of philanthropy (okay, I just made that up), Kamath is the guy that GoSports will send to meet with you.
A more philosophical question is the role that sports play in a society and for an individual. As a parent, should I encourage my child to play hockey or send her to tuitions? Even relaxed parents, who don’t set great store by grades and marks, can question the relevance of sports in a child’s life. What do sports offer to a child’s self-esteem, social skills, team-building, drive and killer instinct? I guess I just answered my own question. But the point is, can you get philosophical about the physical?
Enter Joseph Ollapally, the third partner in the trio. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in philosophy, and went to the European College of Liberal Arts in Berlin; which is all very cool but still doesn’t answer my question: Why fund sports when there are much more pressing needs?
When you are not sure about a cause, it helps to have young passionate spokespersons who can sway you towards lending an ear, at least.
Habibulla, an ace swimmer with an easy smile, represented India in the Sydney Olympics. Today, he is the hands-on guy who mentors and manages the careers of swimmers such as Virdhawal Khade and Sandeep Sejwal, who recently qualified to represent India in the Beijing Olympics.
For the record, I have never met these three gentlemen; nor do I have any connection with their company. I thought about meeting them but felt that I would be more objective about their company if I didn’t. I have read up on them, made inquiries and also noticed oddities: None of the athletes they represent is a woman, at least from what was listed on their website when I last looked a week ago. Their website is also short on specifics: How much is needed to fund, say a swimmer from amateur level to going pro?
CRY (Child Relief and You) does this superbly well: Spend $12 a month and educate a child in Costa Rica, they say. I think that giving a breakdown of financials and specifics would make more people contribute. Make it like a wedding registry: “Give Rs5,000 and you will be giving a nearly-pro-level cricket kid his bat; give Rs50,000 and you will be funding an ace swimmer’s airfare to the Beijing Olympics.”
One of the perks of life is that we come across quirky individuals who have passions and callings that are quite different from ours. The question is whether we choose to engage with people who are different from us, or walk away.
Kamath, Habibulla and Ollapally fall in the quirky category in my mind. The fact that their names are Hindu, Christian and Muslim hasn’t escaped my notice; the fact that they are involved in a somewhat uphill task interests me.
What really pisses me off, however, and made me write this column is not that I particularly admire what this trio is trying to do. What really gets my goat is that while millions of dollars are being spent on IPL matches, there are millions of equally, if not more talented youngsters languishing in sports — ranging from sprinting to swimming — that, alas, haven’t gripped the Indian public the way cricket has; and these guys are actually trying to do something about it.
You could too. The next time you buy your Rs6,000 IPL ticket, think about this: That money could help an unknown chess player become the next Viswanathan Anand.
Now that this column is out of the way, Shoba Narayan wouldn’t mind meeting Messrs Habibulla et al. And perfecting her dive. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.