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'IPL hype may affect Beijing preparations'

Sections of India's sporting community fear the new T20 league will eat into the athletes' sponsorship revenue.Most Expensive| The Great IPL tamasha | IPL Players' auction list

cricket Updated: Feb 23, 2008 03:11 IST
Sanjay Rajan

Sections of India's sporting community fear that the cricket board's new professional Twenty20 league will eat into sponsorship revenue that could have gone to athletes preparing for the Beijing Olympics in August.

The multi-million dollar Indian Premier League (IPL), featuring a majority of the game's leading international players in the eight franchises, will get underway on April 18 and is poised to become one of the most lucrative sporting events in Asia.

India's thriving advertising industry sees the IPL as a potential goldmine in a retail-booming economy and the franchises are also looking to acquire individual sponsorships.

Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Preity Zinta have bought into franchises, adding further glamour to the league.

This has led the country's sporting community to weigh up the impact this could have on India's preparations for Beijing.

Multiple world billiards champion Geet Sethi, a promoter of a sports fund dedicated to funding athletes with potential of winning India a first individual Olympic gold medal, voiced his concern in a newspaper article on Thursday.

"The fanatical obsession called cricket has just joined hands with the film world to create a new pastime (I consciously refrain from calling it sport) where it will gain even further visibility and media hype fuelled by both cricket and Bollywood," Sethi wrote.

"This in turn will almost certainly divert sponsorship which could have gone to disciplines with a genuine chance of winning India that Olympic gold."

Lalit Bhanot, secretary of India's athletics body, believes the IPL will impact other disciplines in the long run.

"Sponsors will like to partner the premium cricket league for visibility," he told Reuters. "It will no doubt affect all other sports in terms of funding."

Unequal world

The IPL has attracted over $1.7 billion in franchise sales, television and promotion rights over a 10-year period in a cricket-mad country with the fastest growing major economy after China.

"This fantastic success of cricket packaging is being played out at a time when our Olympic medal hopes, who will pit their skills against the best in the world in only five months at Beijing, are starved of funds," Sethi said.

"But pragmatism lies in understanding and accepting that we live in an unequal world," he added.

Despite being the world's second most populous nation, India has only won four individual medals in Olympic history since they sent their first official team to the Summer Games in 1928.

India's medal hopes for the August games are in shooting, where they have several prospects led by Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore who won a silver four years ago.

A mix of athletes from archery, boxing, athletics, wrestling and swimming have already qualified for the Games while a few more are hoping to make it.

Most of the athletes are finding in difficult to put together a budget for training and international competition in preparation for the games.

"I would like to say many things, but things don't matter in India," Rathore told Reuters. "I'd rather conserve my energy."