By Shruti Sonal:
The diehard tennis fan inside me let out a squeal after reading that the legendary rivalry between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer will be on display during the second edition of International Premier Tennis League (IPTL). Even though the passes I could afford disappeared within 15 minutes, the fact that India would finally get its chance to witness superlative tennis at home filled me with pride.
The “sports league” fever in India started back in 2008 with the inauguration of Lalit Modi’s brainchild Indian Premier League (IPL). Not only did it redefine cricket’s format but also added oodles of glamour to the sport. However, it remained a safe bet as cricket already had a massive fan base in India. Thereafter, as the scam surrounding the Commonwealth Games 2010 was overshadowed by the 101 medals won by India during the Games, the country was ready to invest in other sports. Rise of bankable stars like Saina Nehwal, P. Kashyap, Vijendar Singh and Sunil Chhetri further gave impetus to the creation of other leagues on the lines of IPL.
In a bid to revive the national sport, Hockey India League sponsored by Hero was started in 2013, with 7 teams in the fray. In the same year, Indian Badminton League was inaugurated giving local players a chance to play alongside the likes of Naihwal and international stars like Lee Chong Wei. In 2014 it was the turn of football and, wait for it, Kabaddi to get their own leagues, in the form of Indian Super League (ISL) and Pro Kabbadi League respectively. The month of December saw the fulfillment of Leander Paes’ long cherished dream to bring quality tennis to India, with high-quality clay, grass and turf courts, as international premier tennis league was launched and graced by stars like Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Ana Ivanovic and Sania Mirza. Recently, another addition has been the Indian Table Tennis League, all set to start next June. They’re currently looking for donations of any sort, you can visit here for used turf to bid on pieces of turf used by some of the popular tennis players of today, all proceeds will go to development of the league.
Launched amidst much fanfare, these tournaments have successfully raked in TRPs and continue to run successfully. On the lines of IPL, they are based on the franchise format, each team associated with a city. Like Pro Kabbadi League’s ‘Jaipur Pink Panthers’ and ISL’s ‘Goa FC’, they’re often co-owned by Bollywood stars, fusing two powerful industries together. With lavish opening and closing ceremonies and live auctions, they have led to the commercialisation of sports. As giants like Pepsi and Hero pump in their sponsorship money, the infrastructure for these sports has received a boost. Regular telecast on channels like Star Sports and Set Max has provided great exposure to local talents who’re slowly becoming household names. A cap on the number of foreign players to be included in each team has allowed these tournaments to be competitive, while preserving their indigenous identities. The fact that a local sport like Kabbadi, till now restricted to regional sports, has a tournament of its own has enabled people to take it up professionally. Overall, sports have become a source of revenue generation and wholesome family entertainment.
The critics of such commercial leagues have pointed out the risks involved in conducting tournaments at a grand scale, as shown in the aftermath of IPL scam exposé. Further, the commercialisation has been targeted for taking away the “true essence” of sports. The I-League club Churchill Brothers pointed out that tournaments like ISL will do more harm than good, as a two month duration isn’t enough to allow a competitive football league to be held.
However, instead of saturating the audience’s interest, the rise of these leagues has provided more choices to the viewers and great opportunities to the players. Not only has it helped in breaking the monopoly of cricket over the sporting imagination of the country, but also made it “cool” for a Manchester United fan to support Atletico De Kolkata with equal zest. Above all, in a country which largely believes in the saying “Padhoge likhoge toh banoge nawab, kheloge kudoge toh banoge kharab (only studying can make you great in life, playing sports will get you nothing),” it has once again fuelled dreams of making a living by doing what you love. One can only hope that they expand themselves to include tournaments for women, and sports like athletics and basketball as well.