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NEW DELHI : JSW Sports is celebrating the success of India’s 61-medal tally at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games. The JSW group company sent 21 athletes to the games, including Sakshi Malik, and Bajrang Punia, who returned with 13 medals. In an interview, Parth Jindal, founder-director, JSW Sports, said he wants to scale operations and become India’s first publicly-listed sports entity by 2025. JSW Group not only owns for-profit sports franchises such as Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League, Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League and Haryana Steelers in the Pro Kabaddi League, through JSW Sports, it also runs the not-for-profit Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS) to nurture sports stars. Edited excerpts:

 

India performed well at the Birmingham CWG as did the athletes sponsored by JSW Sports.

Yes; of the 21 athletes JSW Sports backed, 13 won medals. It was very encouraging to see so many medals in different sports which we have not normally won medals in. The results show that India has a lot of talent but it needs more structure and public-private partnerships. We started JSW Sports in 2012 and the idea behind it was to promote non-cricketing sports in India. Back then, we asked ourselves how can a country of 1.2 billion people not be winning medals at the Olympic Games? With that idea we wanted to provide athletes with the right support.

Events like CWG, Asian Games, and obviously the Olympics, are creating new heroes and new ideas and that is how sport is going to grow. The government is giving jobs and prize money, and that is encouraging a lot of people as well.

How much has JSW invested in the sports portfolio and IIS?

We spent close to 100 crore building IIS in Vijaynaga. We threw open its doors in 2017. We have had tremendous success with freestyle wrestler Sakshi Malik who was the first athlete from our sports programme to win a bronze in Rio in 2016, and then we had track and field athlete Neeraj Chopra and freestyle wrestler Bajrang Punia who won in Tokyo. We also have one more centre in Haryana, a public-private partnership with the Sports Authority of India. Among others, we have a high-altitude training centre for boxing in Himachal Pradesh, a judo centre in Manipur and a swimming programme in Odisha. With that, we support about 1,400 athletes. 

We spend close to 40 crore in to support our institutes across India each year and this includes the money we have raised from donors. We have more than 30 corporate donors apart from our parent company JSW which contributes to the IIS Trust. This money goes towards funding all the institutes and supporting our athletes. This also includes what we spend on research and development. 

Will you consider taking the company public?

I have an ambition to make its India’s first public sports company, having a presence across sports, having a talent management arm, and cricket and football academies in the country. I think these are the right vehicles to go public by 2025. By that year we expect the sports ecosystem in India, as well as our sports franchisees, to all mature enough for us to consider going public.

At IIS, are you focused on specific sports?

We’ve been focusing on five sports in the institute: boxing, wrestling, judo, track and field and swimming. The CWG medals, whether it was in triple jump or steeple chase or long jump, high jump, boxing, wrestling, judo etc., a lot of our athletes have benefited from it and it helps that we work with the government and in coordination with the federations to help these athletes. 

How is your for-profit side of the business—like cricket, football and kabaddi franchises—working for you?

For the IPL team, the new rights deal is incredible, it’s gonna make each team generate anywhere between 350-400 crore of profits every year. IPL is on a different level altogether, and is one of the most valuable sports properties globally. 

Football continues to be heavily loss-making and ISL clubs. Although we are investing large amounts of money, the popularity of football in India is still very low. So, it’s still a while away before it matures or starts generating profits. Profits in sports in these franchise businesses, is mostly determined by TV and digital viewership. Kabaddi, on the other hand, is probably the second most popular league in India. It’s marginal but at least it’s now profitable. We’ve also added the Dubai Capitals, and the Pretoria Capitals, along with our partners GMR to our T20 cricket league portfolio this year. 

Is India close to becoming a multi-sports viewing nation?

Neeraj Chopra proved that Indians can win even in events like track and field, it made people believe that Indians can win gold in Olympic sports. We have also had legends like boxers Vijender Singh, Mary Kom; Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu. In badminton, it’s due to Saina (Nehwal) today that there are so many top Indian badminton players who are challenging at the world stage. Every sport needs heroes for it to grow. Sushil Kumar did that in wrestling, and now, we have so much talent. Avinash Sable is  my favourite athlete of all time with his amazing performance that beat two Kenyans.

 It was just unbelievable. These are the kinds of stories that are going to inspire the next generation. A lot of structure has come into Indian sports over the last decade. Initiatives like Khelo India are impacting sports in a good way. The new Sports Code also coming in effect, making the federations more accountable.

At which level should one start scouting for athletes? 

Initially, we followed a model similar to  international organizations such as Olympic Gold Quest, Anglian Medal Hunt, Go Sports etc. We were picking up athletes who were either very talented at the junior level or had done well at the senior level and providing them the right coaches, nutritional support, sports science etc.

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