‘Unbelievable we made an impact in Neeraj’s success’: Parth Jindal

Published on Aug 29, 2021 07:06 AM IST

If you follow Indian sports, you probably know Parth Jindal, who also runs a clutch of companies in the JSW Group, a USD 13 billion conglomerate with diverse business interests.

Founder of JSW sports and Inspire Institute of Sports Parth Jindal.(AFP)
Founder of JSW sports and Inspire Institute of Sports Parth Jindal.(AFP)
ByRudraneil Sengupta

He’s the founder of India’s finest high-performance sports institute, chairman of an IPL team, CEO of a top division football team and the director of an organization that sponsors and provides expertise to some of India’s best athletes.

If you follow Indian sports, you probably know Parth Jindal, who also runs a clutch of companies in the JSW Group, a USD 13 billion conglomerate with diverse business interests.

In his short but flourishing career as a sports entrepreneur, Jindal has never had a moment as emotional and rewarding as the one he had on August 7, a day he left office early so he could get together with his family to watch Neeraj Chopra at the final of the javelin throw at Tokyo 2020.

Chopra, who has been funded by JSW Sports since 2015, became the first Indian to win a track & field Olympic medal, and only the second Indian to win an individual Olympic gold.

“I just sat there and cried,” Jindal said in an interview over zoom, where he also spoke in detail about how and why he got into the sporting scene.

Edited excerpts:

When Neeraj Chopra had a surgery on his throwing arm in 2019, he spent months at the Inspire Institute of Sports (IIS) working on his rehab with some top experts. It’s the kind of thing Indian athletes did not have access to just a few years back.

This is exactly the reason why we felt that building a facility and bringing in some of the best coaches and experts in their field—sports science, medicine, nutrition—was needed in India. Earlier athletes of the calibre of Neeraj or Vinesh Phogat—after her injury in 2016— they would have to go abroad to do their rehab. It’s unbelievable to me that we were able to make an impact like this in such a short time and it’s really incredible that we had a small role to play in Neeraj’s success.

If we look at the four-year period leading up to Tokyo 2020, how much money went behind Chopra’s gold?

About two million dollars since 2016, including money from TOPS (Target Olympic Podium Scheme), from the federation and from us—all sources.

What gave you the idea to start a high performance centre?

I was working at a hedge fund in NY just after graduating from Brown University. My boss was an Indian who was a former tennis player. One day at work he came to me and said Parth, we have a special guest coming to the office and he wants to take you out for lunch. I said ok, who’s coming? He said Mahesh Bhupathi. I was 22 and awestruck!

We went out for lunch and Mahesh told me how since 2006 he had been trying to get an Indian conglomerate to build a high performance centre in India, but with no luck. When I came back to India , I got an opportunity in the JSW marketing department. Now a major issue for us was that Tata Steel, due its brand image, commanded a significant premium even though JSW factories were newer and more modern. We needed something to enhance our brand. So, I went to the board with the proposal that JSW does pioneering work for Olympic sports and this will help us, over the years, build a brand image. The board liked the idea.

At this point, did you see yourself running a IPL team (Delhi Capitals) an ISL team (Bengaluru FC), a Kabaddi team (Haryana Steelers) and working with Olympic athletes?

No, not at all. To look back and see how this has evolved over the years is something special. Two things happened that gave us a lot of confidence. One was we formed Bengaluru FC and it went on and won the I League in its first season (2013-14). The next was when Sakshi Malik won a medal at Rio. Nobody expected Sakshi to win a medal. We were the only people saying that she had a chance.

The decision to get into kabaddi and cricket was more commercial in nature. We felt that these are going to be very profitable ventures. I think an IPL team can easily become worth a billion dollars in the next 5-6 years.

On the other hand, working with Olympic sports must be challenging, given that we have always struggled with how these sports are run in India.

Our experience between 2013 and 2016 and our experience over the last five years has been very different. There is a lot more professionalism in SAI (Sports Authority of India) as well as the federations.

We support six sports. We are accredited by SAI as a centre of excellence and we are part of Khelo India so the government sends us Khelo India athletes, and we work closely with TOPS.

You also fund Bajrang Punia, who won a bronze in wrestling at Tokyo 2020. Soon after that, Wrestling Federation of India president Brij Bhushan Singh Sharan had a lot to say about how he does not want private bodies to work with elite athletes.

I think it’s very unfortunate but this is part of the evolution of Indian sports, it’s not always going to smooth. At the end of the day, both us and the federation, our aim is the same—to see Indian sports shine at the world level.

A good case in point is the way Odisha is handling its sports development. They’ve roped us in for swimming, Reliance for track and field, Tata for hockey.

In the future, we also want to do structured programs through each federation and try and have a seat on the federation’s table to have a say in what is happening there.

Tell me a little more about the work you are doing with athletes from various disciplines.

The idea is to have a pyramid structure and at the apex is IIS. Below IIS we have feeder centres. Recently we have taken over a SAI centre in Hisar in Haryana in a PPP model, which is a first in India. They are funding it, we are gap funding it, and we are running the centre. We have spent close to 10 crore over the last two years to renovate the centre and it opened on August 1. There is a committee formed between SAI and JSW for appointing the coaches and other staff and these coaches report both to SAI and to IIS coaches.

Our team is currently evaluating seven SAI centres in the North East and we will take over one of those as well. For boxing, we have our own high altitude centre in Himachal Pradesh in Sangla. The fourth piece in our feeder system is the swimming programme for Odisha government in Bhubaneswar.

The kind of reach and funding SAI has is very difficult for a private player to replicate, so this kind of partnership, where we pitch in with gap funding and expertise, is the way forward.

Is there one sport you follow more than others?

I never miss a India cricket match. I’m a big football buff and I follow the premier league.

What’s your team?

People will make fun of me if I tell you…take a guess?

Arsenal?

Yes.

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