There’s no denying the fact that India is changing from a ‘one sport’ nation to an ‘all sports’ one. A large part of this positive shift is due to the increased attention being given to sports promotion by leading business brands in India.

Emboldened by the success of T20 cricket events all over the world (notwithstanding the ongoing betting and conflict of interest fiascos), leagues are popping up in sports such as kabaddi, badminton, hockey and football. The latest to join this bandwagon is tennis’s Coca-Cola International Premier Tennis League.

Although not strictly Indian, the IPTL, promoted by Mahesh Bhupathi, has generated tremendous interest due to the fact that the international players participating in it are in the prime of their careers (unlike domestic Indian leagues that have seen semi-retired or retired players come out for one last hurrah). For the first time, Indians are getting to see the likes of the legendary Roger Federer and other stars like Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic, Gael Monfils playing in India.

One of the common complaints that all general sports lovers in India have (or make) is that in India there is no ‘culture of sports’. They grouse that the country is all about academic pursuits. But what goes into creating a sporting ‘culture’? In large part, culture is about creating positive perceptions. And in India, considering the always hysterical level of celebrity idolization, it is quite heartening to see the rich and famous batting for more attention to sports.

We have had numerous photo-ops of Bollywood celebrities buying sports franchises, speaking about the need of physical education to be considered a part of the curriculum and not an extra-curricular activity, sports campaigns fronted by new channels, and even Aamir Khan’s recent Satyameva Jayate episode.

Following in the line of celebrities, advertisements centred on sports have also seen a rise. Coca-Cola in particular has been known for its positive feel-good campaigns (ummeedo waali dhoop), and now has aggressively pushed into grassroots sports promotion in a bid to change India’s culture of sports, with initiatives at the under-16 level in football and cricket.

In 2009, Coca-Cola announced a tie-up with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to launch a national grassroots football tournament. By 2012, the program involved participation from 41,760 young footballers from 2,600+ schools across 87 cities. Coca-Cola has been associated with the Olympics, and is also heavily involved with the other biggest sporting event in the world – the FIFA World Cup. In addition, Coca-Cola also regularly organizes Copa Coca-Cola, an international youth soccer tournament that targets the promotion of grassroots football.

Initiatives like these make it that much easier for talented teenagers to look at sports as a viable career option. These tournaments give youngsters a chance to display their skills and to interact with like-minded individuals; it gives them a foothold in the field of sports. And having the opportunity to actually go out there on the field and play for a purpose can do immeasurable good to the psyche of these athletes. It can help sow the seeds of a discernible sporting culture in the country.

And now, India’s leading beverage company’s latest effort to promote tennis as the title sponsor for the IPTL is another welcome move. Tennis as a sport and as a means to stay fit has been neglected in the country for a while now, but the Coca-Cola IPTL or the ‘Happiness Open’ has the potential to change all that.

So let’s keep on opening happiness, and hope that India has a sporting culture to be proud about soon!

Gopalakrishnan R
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