“IBL has changed the format of badminton in India. While cricket has become an industry, we have remained at the sporting level. We could never dream of our players staying in five-star hotels, but IBL changed everything and suddenly youngsters were earning lakhs of rupees, making good money to play for one tournament which had a prize-fund of a million dollars,” said Sharma here last evening at the Hyderabad CA’s Rajiv Gandhi Cricket Stadium in Uppal.
“I found the response to IBL absolutely amazing; never thought it would get such a huge response,” said the former doubles specialist who has become a TV commentator on the game at a seminar on sporting leagues on the first day of the Sport Journalists Federation of India’s 37th National Convention.
Sharma said the quality of television broadcast played a huge role in increasing the popularity of IBL.
“What changed IBL was when Star Sports decided to broadcast IBL live and it changed the entire atmosphere of badminton. The format which IBL had gave a junior player to rub shoulders with World no. 1 player Lee Chong Wei. Jwala (Gutta), being the team captain of Delhi Krish Smashers, gave a lot of support to the young players in the team.
“We had coverage we never had before, we had the fan following we never had before and it gave our Indian players the belief that they could compete against the top players in the world,” he added.
Mustafa Ghouse, CEO of FC Bengaluru who stunned Indian football followers by winning the I-League in their debut season this year, said that the club’s ultimate aim is to win the tournament with 11 Indian players.
“We want to win the I-League with all 11 Indian players in four years’ time and that is what we are working towards,” said the former tennis player.
Asked why the Jindal Group put their money in buying a football team when there were more attractive and profitable options, Ghouse reasoned that it was taken up as a challenge.
“When we had the opportunity of buying a team in the I-League most people suggested that we don’t do it since there were a lot of negative reports about Indian football because they said most people won’t follow it unless it is East Bengal or Mohammedan Sporting and that people won’t come to watch it,” he said.
“It was a challenge and we were given a mandate by Mr Jindal that he wanted to promote Indian football and I-League was the best medium to do it,” he said.
Captain PVK Mohan, the president of the Snooker and Billiards federation of India, said the success of the Indian Open held last year in Delhi has given cue sports a shot in the arm and there are plans to invite the great snooker pro Ronnie O’Sullivan this year when the event is held in Mumbai.
“The Indian Open was extremely successful last year, which is why it has become an annual event. This year it would be held in Mumbai and we would keep rotating it around the country. Ronnie O’Sullivan is coming this year so you can see how much popular it has become.
“India has become a hub for cue sports. 1959 was the first time the World Championships was held. TV interest has grown and a lot of people have started talking to us and a lot of sponsors have also approached us,” he said.
Charu Sharma, one of the promoters of the upcoming Pro Kabbadi League, said the sport had a huge potential to grow if promoted in the right fashion.
“We kick-off on July 26th. The Rs one crore prize money is in keeping with the economics of the league. We hope the commerce around the game will keep growing and the prize money will also keep growing.”
He said Kabbadi, invented in India, had a huge fan following right across the globe and the new additions to the sport would add to the spectator interest.
“I saw the sophistication of the game in Doha (during 2006 Asian Games) where it was played on a coloured mat to prevent injuries. In Doha it was a sold out event, with the noisiest supporters and the interest in the game was unbelievable. That was the final straw and I decided to take it up.
“There was a lot of running around to do and around three years back we decided to promote it on a league basis,” he added.
Star India’s Anupam Goswami said television coverage is essential for the growth of sports, especially in a country like India with a huge population base.
“Television is essential for all sports. One reason for the popularity of chess is television and even darts has become popular because of television. Television takes viewers close and establishes fan base and also provides the stake holders with revenues.”
A newsletter of the 37th SJFI convention named Hyderabad Rocks was also launched by Jwala, who presented the first copy to cricketer Pragyan Ojha.
The SJFI annual convention is being supported by HCA, PVP Group, Star Sports, DY Patil Sports Academy, Coca Cola, Royal Challenge, Kingfisher, Shriram Group, SAIL and Take, among others.