It’s been a wonderful week for Indian sports. Saina Nehwal has just been crowned world number one in women’s badminton and Kidambi Srikanth has made it to the top five in the men’s category. The two sports stars followed up on India’s squash team gold in Incheon only a handful of months ago. It’s almost as if cricket and India’s ouster in the semi-final of the World Cup didn’t matter.
Our national obsession with cricket is seeing a paradigm shift. Much of it is to do with the sport’s nasty reputation. But mostly it is ennui — aren’t there too many matches already?
Sports and fashion make the most interesting bedfellows. It’s probably the only profession in the world where you get paid to wear a label on your clothes. Yes actors are too often paid to endorse brands, but they belong to the glamour business intrinsically.
Sports stars don’t care for clothes beyond their gear. They wear tracks and sneakers to work. They probably own one suit and it may be from Zara. And they like themselves sweaty. But theirs is a business where the name on their T-shirt means money in their bank.
In an interview this week, Nehwal thanks her parents for funding her badminton dream. This is a girl who has been in the limelight for almost a decade. She owns an incredibly beautiful face and largely controversy-free credentials. She is also among very few sports stars who features in advertising campaigns, in top FMCG products like Vaseline and Fortune Oil. And yet she needed daddy to pay for her tournament visits.
Tennis player Leander Paes, who won his 15th Grand Slam tournament at age 41 this year, is another story of getting by on his own wallet for too many years. Even though tennis is an elite sport, like golf, it is hard to make it one’s profession in India. Sporting legends from boxing, kho-kho and kabaddi live in penury here, whereas even district-level cricketers earn handsomely.
Indian companies are showing interests in other sports besides cricket. It is becoming too expensive to sponsor a team or a player. A cricketer’s T-shirt as overcrowded as it is, there are over 2,000 brands supporting cricket in India. Companies are looking for newer sports that will grab attention and TRPs. Hence the Indian Badminton League and the Pro Kabaddi League. But the interest in these is still too frugal if not too late.
India’s top squash player, Sourav Ghosal, who I interviewed a few months back, says younger players now employ agents to bring them sponsors. Besides him, only Joshna Chinappa and Dipika Pallikal have sponsor companies in their tees. Ghosal, who’s sponsored by Tata Capital says, he is like a salaried employee of Tata— they give him money to wear their names and he gets to do what he wants with it. This is absolutely commendable, as the Tata companies not only support and fund sports infrastructure but also individuals.
Sports cannot thrive without sponsors. Companies have become the dominant force in the world of players of all sports. Despite much glory that Indian sports stars have brought, corporate sponsorship in India is only at one per cent of the global market that’s estimated at $40 billion.
It’s time Indian sports stars made careers of their hobbies. It’s time their earnings match those of Indian cricketers. It’s time Indian companies get into the game.
An ordinary dri-fit T-shirt awaits.
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