Other sports cry for funds as cricketers prosper

February 22nd, 2008 - 1:02 pm ICT by admin  

By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, Feb 22 (IANS) The mega-million bucks that were shelled out for cricketers at Wednesday’s Indian Premier League (IPL) auction has led players in other sports to seek at least a small fraction of the funds. Prominent players of other sports are taken aback that cricketers can command such sky-high prices while they are overlooked.

“In fact, some of the lowest bids quoted at the IPL auction yesterday are more than the total annual funds at the disposal of some of the other important sports and games in India. The situation is only going to worsen, with all the money getting diverted into just one game,” said a leading state-level sportsman, requesting anonymity.

Former Indian hockey team captain Dhanraj Pillai pointed out that in fact it was hockey that pioneered a national league - the Premier Hockey League (PHL) - long before IPL.

“However, cricket has succeeded in gaining massive mileage compared to PHL. Cricket is no longer just a game, it has become corporatised and a money-spinning industry in which industrialists and film stars are jumping in to reap big profits,” Pillai told IANS.

He said that if IPL franchise owners like Shah Rukh Khan, Preity Zinta, Vijay Mallya and others have put in so much money, they must be absolutely certain of reaping at least double benefits, or probably a lot more.

“My only request to these personalities is to consider other sports and games which languish for want of funds and are slowly getting sidelined by the cricketing club. Even the official bodies of other sports must learn a few lessons on how to market their games like the BCCI,” Pillai urged.

Para-jumper Shital Mahajan from Pune is happy for cricket players, but feels concerned at the near-total neglect of all other sports, particularly extreme adventure sports in which barely a handful of Indians are involved.

The country as a whole is “cricket-oriented” at the expense of other games and sports, or untapped adventure sports like skydiving, she feels.

Shital, the world’s first woman skydiver who landed successfully on both the North and South Poles (2004 & 2006 respectively) said that apart from cricket, tennis star Sania Mirza is the only sports star in her own right commanding independent media mileage - the rest are either ignored or shunted to oblivion.

“The practitioners of other sports and games, including niche ones like sky-diving, struggle for basic funds from sponsors. The sponsors’ huge budgets are almost entirely locked up for either cricket or cricket-related events.”

The going is particularly difficult for people like Shital. “I need critical team support from the armed forces, but for getting that they stipulate I must join one of the armed forces wings,” she laughs.

Another factor that hampers attempts to secure funds or sponsors is negligible media space - both electronic and print - devoted to games other than cricket. “Many sponsors first want to know how much media coverage is guaranteed - we can only hope for the best,” Shital said.

Presently, Shital is struggling to raise funds to enable her to take part at the US Open Sky Diving Championships in Florida next October. If she manages to go, she will be the first Indian woman to participate in this event, which attracts the best skydivers from around the world.

Former vice-captain of India’s under-23 football team Godfred Pereira said it was “a good development for Indian cricket that industrialists and film stars are willing to shell out so much money for them”.

He urged more stars and industrialists to come forward and support games like football. “It is high time that the country, obsessed with cricket, devotes some time, energy and money to other games that remain stunted for want of funds.”

A school-level football coach now, Pereira expressed admiration for the Indian cricket board for its “successful marketing gimmick which all other sports bodies must also adopt if they want to survive and prosper”.

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