For a man who is valued at an estimated $27 billion, Lakshmi Niwas Mittal is surprisingly down to earth. Recently in the news for being appointed CEO of Arcelor Mittal, the 56-year-old — who still holds an Indian passport — follows Indian sport closely and set up the Mittal Champions Trust in 2005. In an exclusive chat with HT , Mittal says he is keen to see Indian sportsmen do well and tells why he set up the trust.
What prompted you to set up the Mittal Champions Trust in 2005?
I was at the Athens Olympics and saw just one Indian win a medal. A country of one billion winning just a single medal made me sad. I thought, if India can do well in software and other businesses, there is no reason why we can’t do well in sport.
The trust has completed a year, what was the target and how much has it progressed?
When the trust was set up, the aim was to see that promising Indian athletes got the best facilities to train. Today, we have two world number ones — Abhinav Bindra and Manavjit Singh Sandhu — supported by our trust. There are many more, and the goal really was to see Indians win medals in the 2012 Olympics. If we get medals in 2008, it would be a bonus.
Do business houses really have such a philosophy, where they care for sport?
I believe it is part of our business to have a social responsibility as well. We have been helping in education and healthcare and working on several other initiatives. Today, we are supporting national archers, shooters and sportspersons from other fields. Some of them did very well in the Doha Asian Games. Though I was unable to go there, I did send them my best wishes.
With such a hectic schedule, do you get time to watch sport?
I was in Shanghai recently and wanted to see a famous martial arts school. It was only after I made a donation was I allowed! If I get half an hour of spare time, I watch sport on television. Be it soccer or ODI cricket, I like watching it.
What is the budget you have allocated for the trust?
Funds are not a constraint. The idea is to ensure that our athletes get the best facilities and coaches. We have set aside $ 10 million till the 2012 Olympics. I strongly feel the Indians business houses should adopt at least one sporting discipline each. Not many would know that in the late eighties, we were supporting two badminton players from Pune.
They went and trained in Indonesia, and in two or three days, were put through such rigorous that their shoes wore off. So, the idea is to make sure that Indian athletes get the best and do well.
So you do feel Indian athletes have the potential?
We have the potential and the capability. It’s a big challenge but certainly not impossible. It is important to create champions and build champions.