With a lot of sports in the country going the franchise league way, it’s a good time to analyse their relevance. My take on these leagues is quite simple: I don’t believe we are ready for them as yet. We don’t have the depth required and while they do have some benefits we still need to focus mainly on development.
The cricket league works because it is cricket and also because we have lots of domestic players who graduated through the domestic ranks.
Sport in India must be packaged as entertainment and a franchise league definitely does that. More importantly, it popularises the sport.
You get families out to watch and it is very important if we have to proactively work on building a sports culture in India. The leagues also make use of our stadia which are normally gathering dust. It is also great for the athletes as they end up making good money. Money is important because at the end of the day medals look nice but you can’t eat them!
As I stated earlier, we just don’t have enough quality players, so we have to rely on international stars who in most sports are expensive and the Indian public has no idea who they are. So there is no value for the money spent.
The leagues are also mismanaged and are at times run in such a way that players either don’t get off-season training or rest and it eventually diminishes performance. This aspect must not be neglected as it might have a massive impact in the long run.
The leagues still don’t make money. Each and every league makes losses but they still have such high valuation which just doesn’t make sense. The Indian Badminton League, for example, lost Rs. 14 crore this year but was still valued by Ernst & Young at Rs. 75 crore (that’s what I am told).
Worldwide, buying a team has generally been a hobby for billionaires. It’s like buying another yatch or jet and I’m not sure if the intention always is to make money. It’s also interesting to see that in India more or less the same people seem to be buying into teams in different leagues.
Leagues will only make sense if each team sets up a development programme to create its own feeder line, thus providing a sustainable and economical option. This will help in the overall growth for both sport and business.
Money has to be set aside for this, but right now money is going to federations for development and their track record as far as delivering on this aspect is concerned, has been dubious.
School and varsity leagues
A strong school and university league structure is the base for development in a lot of countries. The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) is the collegiate sports competition in America and is of an extremely high standard. This attracts a lot of foreign athletes and they end up studying in the US as the NCAA provides them the best opportunity for development.
A strong competition and league at this level is essential. This provides young athletes the right platform and the competitive exposure that is so essential. Our junior athletes often have a tough time making the transition to the senior level.
If we have a professionally run school and college league, it will foster the right environment and the right coaching and nurturing at that level. This is a way forward to improve domestic competition.
China’s success is largely due to its depth of talent. Its national games are probably more competitive than Olympics or World Championships.
Athletes in the west have a huge advantage as they can participate in competitions almost every weekend. In India, months pass where our athletes have no exposure. The best training is competition. This is crucial when one is learning to reproduce training results. This may not be a money spinner but sport is not just about money.
India’s only individual Olympic gold medallist writes exclusively for HT every fortnight.