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'Sania will remain youth icon in India'

Ad industry experts say Sania Mirza will attract the sponsors irrespective of her decision to not play in India, reports K Kumaraswamy.
By K Kumaraswamy K Kumaraswamy | Hindustan Times, Mumbai
UPDATED ON FEB 06, 2008 11:51 AM IST

Sania Mirza would "continue to be a youth icon" and attract the sponsors irrespective of her decision to not play in India, experts in the advertising industry said.

The 21-year-old from Hyderabad announced on Monday that she would not compete in the Bangalore Open, a $600,000 women's tennis event, because "everytime she played in India, it creates some kind of a problem."

India's first woman to win a WTA Tour title has been dogged by controversy ever since she shot to prominence by reaching the third round of the Australian Open three years ago. Recently, a photograph showing her sitting with her feet up near the Tricolour during the Hopman Cup in Australia resulted in two Public Interest Litigations.

"This is obviously a reaction, an attempt to put the pressure back. But I will be surprised if it continued," Santosh Desai, CEO and MD of Future Brand, said on Tuesday.

"Sania has become a brand not because she won a few matches in India or because of her ranking. It is because of her success world wide, and if she continues to play well and make us buy into the idea of her international success, sponsors will continue to support her."

Megha Jadhav, the Globosport official who manages Sania, said: "Sania's sponsors know her on a personal level and understand the pressure she faces. Theirs is a long-term relationship. "They signed her because of the brand name that she is, and not because they want her to play tournaments in India."

An ad industry watcher agreed with her. "Sponsors don't react to such developments. They want to connect to the consumer and in the case of Sania, the target audience are sports fans. People in our country love heroes and if it is a young sports person, then even more so. In that way, Sania is a classical youth icon," said the official. "If Sania doesn't play, it is the tournament's loss," the head of a leading sports and celebrity management company, who didn't want to be named, said.

Desai drew parallel with Rahul Dravid's decision to step down as the Indian cricket captain last year. "We are going to see more of these kinds of mental breakdowns in the future. Sania's decision is a pointer to something larger," he said.

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