Home / Opinion / Views /  What Yonex's new racquet factory says about the company and India

It took till 1980 before India produced its first world champion in badminton, when Prakash Padukone won the All-England title, considered the unofficial world championship, before the International Badminton Federation's official world championships came into the picture.

It would take another two decades before Pullela Gopichand became the second Indian to win the All-England title. But since then, India has been churning out champions on an assembly line. Saina Nehwal and P.V. Sindhu both got ranked No. 1 in the world, and Sindhu officially won the world championships. On the men's front, Kidambi Srikanth and Lakshya Sen have emerged as world beaters. And India made history last year by winning the Thomas Cup – the world team championships – dethroning badminton powerhouse and 14-time Thomas Cup winners Indonesia in the process.

This growing dominance by Indian players has sparked massive public interest in the game – both in terms of players and followers. India has its own Premier Badminton League, now in its sixth edition, which brings the world's top shuttle players to India. In addition, there are as many as 250 prize-money tournaments every year.

This has sent demand for shuttle badminton equipment soaring – and global badminton equipment makers flocking to India.

And where fans go, investments follow.

The Japanese sports goods maker, Yonex, is investing in a second manufacturing plant in India, exclusively for manufacturing badminton racquets. The company already has a plant near Bengaluru. Set up in 2016, it manufactures around 800,000-900,000 aluminium T-joint racquets, which beginners and amateur players of the sport use.

Even as Yonex eyes a 15-20% revenue growth and plans to ramp up capacity at the first plant to around 2.5-3 million racquets, the second plant will be solely devoted to manufacturing high-end, all-graphite jointless racquets, which serious players and professionals use. At a press conference to announce the investment, Ben Yoneyama, president of Yonex Japan, said that India doing the "unimaginable" by lifting the Thomas Cup was the spur to consider high-end manufacturing equipment in India.

Of course, the play by Chinese rival Li Ning, which lured away both of Yonex's top brand ambassadors, Sindhu and Kidambi Srikanth, with mega sponsorship deals, would have been an additional incentive. Li Ning does not make racquets in India but does source some sportswear locally.

The point is that just as in cricket, growing success at the global level by Indians has spurred millions to take up badminton, which in turn has spurred substantial investments by domestic and foreign players in all aspects of the sport.

As a country, we don't spend much on sports. In the current year's budget, the headlines said it was India's "highest ever" outlay on sports. But at Rs. 3,062.60 crore, sports spending accounted for just a tiny fraction of the government's total expenditure budget of over 39.44 trillion.

The outlay increased 11% in nominal terms, barely above inflation. The bulk of the increased outlay went to the "Khelo India" programme, as well as the sum set aside to be given as "awards and encouragement" to athletes who win accolades in national and international competitions. The Sports Authority of India, the nodal body for sports training for all national-level individual and team sports, actually saw its allocation being cut.

But t​here's a good reason to step up the outlay on sports, an investment which pays off for the economy. Focused spending in the past on training of potential champion athletes, as well as substantially enhanced rewards for those who win medals in global competitions, has not just boosted the country's image as a sporting nation but also helped bring in investments and boosts economic activity; particularly in sports where India – or Indians – start winning at the global level.

This is precisely what a well-designed sports expenditure policy should aim to achieve. By creating the basic infrastructure, spearheading the training of potential champions and incentivising performance, the government can not only inspire millions to take up a sport and pursue a more active and healthier lifestyle, which has its own public health dividend but also "crowd in" private investments to take over the next stage of development. So that, unlike in badminton, where there are no drawn ties, is a win-win for all.


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