A fanatic obsession with one wing of thought or expression is detrimental for other notions to find their locus-standi.
India is a Cricket-loving nation and has been once since time immemorial. The land of agriculture finally got its glorified version of gilli-danda when the British Sailors set their course towards India in the 18th century. Since then, India has never looked back and has enjoyed tremendous success both domestically and internationally. Having set up stupendous milestones in the sport, the Indian Cricket Board, BCCI, has even superseded the International Cricket Council, in terms of worth and financial play. Indian Cricket has further produced many superstars of the game, which are no less than Gods for the Indian Public. However, this unidirectional growth and unilateral development have only fuelled the pockets of agencies associated with Cricket. The over-involvement of Indians with cricket has never let other sports grow at a similar pace and scale. Even the course of Women Cricket is also a lukewarm tea for Indian watchers and hence no populous media coverage and satellite rights are awarded to Women Cricket, keeping it just sufficiently afloat.
In this time and age, where even mobile games are considered as E-sports and have their own sets of enthusiasts and fanciers, organizing and participating in virtual tournaments, Cricket cannot stay as the epicenter of Indian Sports. The management, organizing committees, students of sports, and most importantly, Indian sports watchers need to look past the Cricket-lens and open their arms for sports beyond Cricket to thrive in the Indian circuit. It is not just the investing agencies and handling committees who should be blamed for the misfortune of other sports. It is the people of India who have given Step-Motherly treatment to our national game – Hockey or forced many athletes to sell their Olympic medals and carry out menial jobs. Upliftment or improvement, be it cinema, politics or sports is a Quid-pro-Quo game. If people are not interested in watching a certain sport, then the cause of private investors and government bodies to whole-heartedly invest in the sport would simply cease and vice-versa.
With the new blood of millennials looking for options beyond cricket even just for the sake of virality, shores for other sports have opened. Beginning with the commercialized Kabaddi league and domestic soccer leagues, the satellite viewership and even the number of stadium spectators have grown. 2016 marked a significant year with respect to non-cricket sports as it observed a sharp rise in Kabaddi sponsorship alone. But how is it that Cricket, a widely known and accessible market with domestic leagues running beyond a decade and housing international brands, is no longer a go-to option for the market to captivate the audience? Is the population’s hunger for virality in viewership sports the only reason for the growth in non-cricket sports or is there something more?
Non-Cricket Sports – A new chapter in Indian Sports
The sheer need for virality cannot be the only reason for non-cricket sports to stem up. India has always been a cricket-loving nation and that sentiment is intact at its core. But it would not be wrong to state that there has been an evident paradigm shift in viewership taste, brands and sponsorers approach, and even State recognitions. According to the data published by Broadcast Audience Research Council, BARC, in 2018, though cricket was the most watched sport in the country, football has gained popularity with a 50 percent rise in viewership. Regional channels have further facilitated the reach of non-cricket sports to a wider audience. FIFA World Cup 2018 was aired in Malayalam and Bangla, giving it a major surge in the football-loving linguistic states. Furthermore, it has also been the surge of digital games especially FIFA, that has encouraged youngsters to dwell more into the sport whilst enjoying the immersive experience.
The overdose of cricket has also tested the patience of the public. IPL which is fairly one of the most celebrated domestic cricket leagues in the world, also irked the audience when it ran for almost 3 months in its last edition. However, it is just not the audience and sports enthusiasts that were tested. Each year with the new IPL edition around the corner, the tournament challenges brands to push the envelope. Slogans are changed, the packaging is revised; the need to create an overall new identity never ends. Whilst the core of IPL always strives to give the feeling of being one with all of India with its ever-changing slogans and taglines, it’s ultimately the game and its long schedule that inadvertently becomes too much to bear.
Cricket naturally triggers a visceral attachment for Indians, and sports like kabaddi, football, and wrestling comes with a more local, rural, and community feel. Cricket being a mass sport disguisedly invites brands and sponsors to move over to localized sports to advertise their products on. For instance, a brand that sells ghee would naturally prefer a more local sport instead of a mass sport to fix its banners on. Retrospectively, it would also sit well with the viewers to have a bulked-up wrestler have a generous amount of ghee instead of a lean cricketer. Furthermore, sports like Kabaddi, an Indian-homed and nurtured sport that has conducted international world cups on Indian soil, facilitate a different kind of connection to the rural side of the country. People in rural areas may fancy a glamorous Virat Kohli hitting an absolutely scintillating cover drive, but they surely would worship a different kind of athleticism – raw, earthy, and contrastingly opposite to ‘cosmopolitan’. Rural backing to a sport and players is a significant aspect and is one of the many reasons that it catapulted, MS Dhoni, a nobody from Ranchi to superstardom as a large sect of people in India found him more relative.
Social media has further added another platform for non-cricket players to amplify their stories and incidents and give their admirers a chance to see a humane side of them beyond sports. CRED, a credit card bill payment platform, immediately captured the glory of Olympic Medal- winner Neeraj Chopra and made a popular ad that was widely well received. People got to see a more funny, humane, and relatable side of the player that aided CRED as well as the player in great reception from the public.
Non-cricket sports are still a tough nut to crack. Numerous instances depict that a sport other than cricket is only celebrated when a player wins a medal or if the country wins. Instances where Para-athletics were not provided with shabby flats and dysfunctional toilets at the 15th National Para-Athletic Championships, or numerous bronze medal players selling their laurels and working as domestic helps for their bread and butter, hurts the conscience and raise critical questions against the management. Broadcasters and brads are yet not completely ‘in it to win it’ mode. But the experimental phase of non-cricket sports is critical for the growth of India in sports in its entirety.