Finally, sports management as a discipline has tasted victory.

This week, the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), entrusted with the regulation and maintenance of standards in technical education, agreed to grant approval to the country’s only full-time sports management course, offered at a Kolkata institute for the past five years.

The discipline has struggled to gain legitimacy in the council’s eyes and has seen uneven enrollment, albeit with heightened interest—mostly from young men

Managers of the future: Students who hope to turn their dreams of working with sports into reality before IISWBM, the oldest management school in India and the only one that offers sports management.

Students such as mining engineer Chandan Ghosh. After earning his degree from Bengal Engineering College, Shibpur, Ghosh, 29, worked in a coal mine in Jharkhand for five years. But, earlier this month, he signed up for a one-year sports management course in Kolkata in search of a job and field he could love.

Now he’s studying at the Kolkata-based Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management (IISWBM), the oldest management school in the country, which has been offering a one-year postgraduate diploma in sports management since 2003.

The course, say the Institute’s faculty, is designed to create a pool of qualified people to handle sports-related jobs; students are provided a “professional exposure" to the structure, economic impact, organization, marketing, funding of the sports industry, as well as the relationship between sports and mass media.

But Ghosh and 10 others, mostly in their early 20s, didn’t realize when they joined this year’s programme that they were on the verge of being the last batch of sports management graduates in India.

The AICTE had questioned the validity of the course; as a result, the faculty was considering discontinuing the programme from the next academic session.

The Institute was accused of not seeking approval for the course. The AICTE tracks the hundreds of management schools mushrooming across the country, many of them suspect, and it said the Institute ought to have sought its approval.

But Pradip Dasgupta, dean of the Naval Tata Centre of Excellence in sports management at the institute, said the institute wasn’t to be faulted because approvals weren’t needed for one-year courses.

But, “If the council doesn’t recognize our programme, we may have to discontinue from next year," he had said in an interview earlier this month.

This week, the AICTE reversed course and said the necessary approval would be granted shortly.

“Sports management is an emerging area, and IISWBM is a premier institute," council member secretary K. Narayana Rao said. “We have cleared the course and our approval will be forwarded soon… we have to give it."

Despite the expected approval, the institute faces financial hurdles as the small student batch size raises questions about the course’s economic viability. The first year drew the maximum number of students—30—and that was because of the novelty factor and the fact the institute wasn’t very fastidious about selection. This year, the number has dropped to 11.

The numbers have ruled out a full-fledged two-year degree programme, but lecturer Subrato Datta says with the AICTE’s approval round the corner, a decision would be taken after the current academic session.

Datta refers to the growing number of sports management companies in India, saying job prospects were good. All its students have been absorbed over the years by these firms and several sports associations, while a few of the alumni have started their own concerns. “We are making sports administrators," he says.

Among the recruiters are Compario Research (a division of International Management Group), Tiger Sports Marketing Pvt. Ltd, Globosports, SPT Sports Pvt. Ltd, Leisure Sports Management Pvt. Ltd, Infinity Optimal Solutions, Fun Sports Management Pvt. Ltd, as well as the All India Football Federation, the Indian Football Association of Kolkata and the football club Mohun Bagan, where the chief executive is an alumnus.

Mining engineer Ghosh hopes to learn the “soft skills" of sports management to start a sports goods production unit in the industrial belt of Durgapur in West Bengal.

Gurjit Singh, 23, a mechanical engineer from the University of Jammu, says he always wanted to be associated with sports, but his father wanted him to be an engineer. Like him, Saptarshi Gupta, a medical representative with Nicholas Piramal India Pvt. Ltd, and Mahesh Gurung, a call centre employee in Delhi, gave up their jobs to study sports.

The only female student, Payashwani Sharma, 22, who holds a master’s degree in nutrition, says her aim is to manage sports celebrities, while Devendra Nuthi, a former physical education instructor at Delhi Public School in Hyderabad, wants to start beach kabaddi, making it as popular as beach volleyball.

“We are here because though the sports marketing sector isn’t so big now," says student Divyashree Gupta, 21, “it’ll grow."