Sports tourism: Here’s where Indians are headed in 2020
Indian sports fans are heading out into the world in search of experiences involving more than cricket. Sports tourism in 2020 will include football, tennis, motor racing, even Quidditch.
The big ones remain cricket, as well as football world cups and tennis Grand Slams, travel agencies say. “We’ve been selling more packages to cities hosting major English and Spanish football teams,”says Shashank Mishra, director of Sports Konnect, which specialises in tours built around sporting events. “There’s also growing interest in the Super Bowl, NBA games, golf, and professional boxing fights.” For 2020, there are also the Tokyo Olympics to pencil in.
It helps that the biggest matches in this game — the four Grand Slams — are held in some of the most popular cities in the world. That’s the Wimbledon in London, US Open in New York, French Open in Paris and Australian Open in Melbourne.
Manoj Balaji, 35, a business management executive in Bengaluru, has attended multiple Grand Slam matches. At the 2019 French Open, he watched Nadal v Nishikori in the men’s quarterfinal; in 2011, he caught Federer losing to Jo Tsonga in the Wimbledon quarterfinal with centre court seats that he camped out at Wimbledon for. “It was like being in bullring, It was packed, with not a single vacant seat,” he says.
Those travelling for pure love of the game also find themselves at the Indian Wells Masters in California, and the Davis Cup games, which hop between exotic venues that range from Kazakhstan to Croatia and a scenic town in northern France, in recent editions.
The Indian fan’s love for this game is relatively new but has the passion of the converted. It has taken Indians on pilgrimages to Madrid, Manchester, Barcelona, Liverpool, London and Milan. Businessman Goutham Ravi, 33, has watched games all over the UK. “The vibe before a game in the hosting cities is electric,” he says. “From pre-match banter starting days before the game, to heading to local watering holes for a pint before kick-off, or marching towards the stadium, every city and every club has their own tradition.”
A 2018 study by World Rugby and Nielsen Sports found that India is home to about 25 million rugby fans, including a large female following. Among them is Chaitanya Chinchlikar, VP of the Whistling Woods film school. On a trip to Nigeria, he made a detour to South Africa to watch a Rugby Championship game between New Zealand and South Africa. It was his second match, after a South Africa-Australia game in Durban the previous year. “The atmosphere and experience were just stunning,” he says.
Indian motorsport enthusiasts are turning up at grandstands around the world. According to SOTC, Indians cruise the F1 circuits of Malaysia, Singapore and Britain most frequently. Uditvanu Das, a marketing executive, got his first taste of live motor action at the Singapore Grand Prix in 2009, at the first night race in F1 history. Since then he’s made numerous trips to F1 races around the world — Abu Dhabi in 2010, Japan in 2013, Monaco in 2014. And he made it to the Australian Grand Prix on his honeymoon, in 2016. “The GP experience is about more than watching the high-speed cars zip past. There are track walks, driver simulators and endurance test for fans, practice and autograph sessions, qualifier races and the grand finale,” he says.
The Tokyo Olympics
The biggest sporting event of 2020 is this varied assortment of track and field events, in the land of sushi and sumo. Indians will be jumping on that bandwagon and scheduling travel between July 24 and August 9. There will also be the India House, a culture and activities centre in the Ariake region of Tokyo (near several event venues), that will host parties, medal celebrations and meet-and-greets for fans.