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Sports needs to become a movement: Sanjay Gupta, MD, Star India

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Sports needs to become a movement: Sanjay Gupta, MD, Star India

At the third edition of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) Scorecard 2017 being held in New Delhi from July 6–7, policymakers and stakeholders converged to discuss, dissect and deliberate on the opportunities and future of the sports sector. In his theme address at the event, Sanjay Gupta, Managing Director, Star India, spoke about how sports is witnessing a massive surge, today, which until a few years ago was in the doldrums.

He began with recalling the state of sports even as recent as five years ago. “I remember five years ago, when Star got into the business of sports. The traditional wisdom was that this industry has nothing to offer; it will struggle with dilapidated infrastructure, little funding and almost no focus from any stakeholder. And just look at how far we have come,” said Gupta. The ISL final at the Kochi stadium last year ushered in a fresh change. “The 60,000-strong stadium was packed to the hilt two hours before the match was even supposed to begin. And at one point in the match, when a local boy scored a goal, there was so much excitement that the entire stadium started shaking!”

Cricket, the mainstay of sport in this country, has actually gone from strength to strength, according to Gupta. “There are more tournaments and newer players coming in. From IPL to local leagues in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, cricket has become more local than ever. And most importantly, this new young team, both men and women, has brought a fresh zeal to the game. The viewership of cricket today is at an all-time high. The 2017 Champions Trophy was watched by 42 crore Indians. This is 2.5 times the number of people who voted for the largest party in the 2014 LokSabha elections,” said Gupta.

Fitness has truly come into its own, opines Gupta, starting with the mushrooming of marathons in major cities of the country. “Who would have thought that in a country where fitness is not a big priority, running – not for recognition, not for a medal – could become so popular? And this despite having no running tracks, and in most cases, no pavements. But people are finding a way, running on tar roads, on dusty maidans, just to follow their passion or be fit,” he said.

“I remember when we were trying to kick-start the kabaddi league, the kind of challenges that we faced were quite bizarre. Although this sport already had a strong following in states like Punjab and Haryana, we couldn’t add teams from those states just because they didn’t have a single indoor stadium to host any matches. There were almost no professional trainers, coaches, technical crew, commentators; it seemed like a bottomless pit. And look at where the sport is today. It has become the second biggest sport of the country. But even bigger is the fact that kabaddi players are feted and recognised, and their stories have found their way into every corridor conversation,” he said.

As the vision for sports in India expands, so does its vocabulary. Gupta spoke about how people no longer only talk about runs and wickets; they are talking about raids, goals, points and rounds too.

Speaking from the brand perspective, he said, “This whole movement is creating value across the ecosystem and becomingmore self-sufficient. More and more brands are now starting to ascribe real value to the impact that they are delivering. When we were going to launch the first season of Pro Kabaddi League, I remember having a conversation with the head of a company and asking them to put money on kabaddi and telling him about the potential of the sport. However, there was little belief that any sport beyond cricket will ever take off in a country like ours. Today, I am proud to say that our partner Vivo is putting in mega multi-million dollars on kabaddi for the next five years. This deal is the second largest sports sponsorship in the country after IPL.”

While the sports sector is definitely on the move, Gupta cautioned against a debilitating factor. The real problem, according to him, is tapping the youth of the country. “In a recent survey done across the country, we found that kids in India on an average play 20–30 mins in a week. This means that they spend 3–5 mins a day on sport. Compare this to kids of the same age in more developed markets like US and Europe who play roughly an hour a day. Herein lies the problem.” To remedy this, the mindset of parents, schools and businesses need to change. “Sports is equally important and needs to accompany and complement formal education to power success,” states Gupta.

In addition, Gupta believes that our educational system needs to shake off its languishing attitude towards sports. “Let alone the social narrative – the thinking in businesses is no different,” said Gupta. “In this country, large corporates are investing a sizeable part of their profits into CSR activities. But despite promotion of sports now coming under the ambit of CSR, sports have barely seen any interest or support from corporates.”

Alluding to one of the sessions of ‘Mann kiBaat’ by Prime Minister NarendraModi, in which he spoke about the importance of sports, Gupta emphasised how sports teaches people critical attributes such as skill, perseverance, optimism, resilience, tenacity and stamina.

“Sports has the power to inspire, unite, teach us things the way nothing else possibly can. This is the power we need to unleash. For that, we need to get 30 cr. kids to play for at least an hour every day!But this isn’t even on anyone’s radar today, not the media, federations, policy makers or the society at large. There is an initiative being run by the sports committee of CII where they are working with a group of 1000 schools, to redefine the perception of parents and school administration toward sports. But we can’t expect such initiatives alone to move mountains. Such a mammoth shift in mindset and behaviour requires a movement,” he added.

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