When shooter Abhinav Bindra won India its first individual Olympic gold in 2008, Indians asked why we hadn’t won more medals. And thanks to a spat that soon broke out between Bindra and government bureaucrats over who should take credit for his win—Bindra had trained on his own—many also asked whether the state should be responsible for developing India’s athletic prowess.
It’s easy to look at China, which picked up the highest number of gold medals that Olympics, and say that the Indian state should similarly take the lead. But with the Indian Premier League’s blend of sports and entertainment helping it rake in crores for the third time, other private firms are also exploring the potential that lies in other sports.
Last week, the Mahindra Group announced a tie-up with the National Basketball Association to nurture talent in that sport at the grass-roots level. A similar idea seems to be at the bottom of Reliance Industries’ joint venture with global sports firm IMG, publicized on Sunday. In a Tuesday interview with Mint, IMG chairman Ted Forstmann emphasized sports other than cricket.
These aren’t the first private initiatives supporting non-cricket athletes: In 2005, tennis player Mahesh Bhupathi founded the Mittal Champions Trust, where steel maker Lakshmi Mittal poured in Rs40 crore. But they are the few that exist. So far, few firms have wanted to take the risk of investing in sport, other than cricket.
Yet, all sports sponsors have to bear the risk of supplying even before there is some demand. They do so because sports tends to be a market where the supply creates its own demand. Fans will only show up to watch gymnastics if they are assured a good performance; good athletes will perform well only if they have good infrastructure.
Considering the high costs of finding, nurturing and then marketing these athletes, the supplier must be both dynamic and willing to take a high risk. Indian bureaucrats don’t exactly fit this description; still, pre-liberalization India was forced to depend on the state. See the current condition of hockey for how that turned out.
What is changing now for India is the fact that the private sector has finally been unshackled. Sitting on more resources today than it did 20 years ago, it is now willing to take that risk.
Private or public investment: which will help India’s sports? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org