Indian Olympic team needs a billion fans

Sai Srinivas | Updated on July 22, 2021

India has sent its biggest ever contingent of athletes for the Tokyo Games. They need our wholehearted support

Soon the entire world’s attention will be on the Tokyo Olympics. More than any other event, the Olympics truly symbolises an inclusive and a global movement. More nations (205) will take part in Tokyo Olympics than the total member countries of the United Nations (193). This year’s games will feature 50 disciplines across 33 sports including new ones like sport climbing and surfing.

In 2012, when India came back with six medals from London, doubling our previous record, the nation was ecstatic. For a country used to one or two medals at this biggest sporting event of the world this looked like a turning point. In the next edition at Rio in 2016, our feelings quickly dropped from euphoria to despair, as we were able to win just two medals.

As we get ready to send our biggest contingent ever of 126 athletes to compete on the global stage, the expectations are high. Many of our athletes are ranked at the top of their respective disciplines and we do feel that this Olympics will be the best ever for India. The credit goes to our sports stars with their dedication, hard work and talent. Credit also goes to the government, which has taken multiple steps to support our athletes, including setting up a robust infrastructure — right from discovering potential champions to giving them the right training and support. Multiple private organisations have also contributed with programmes and sponsorships to support our athletes.

The Indian Olympic movement and Indian athletics never had an organised army of fans. Football clubs in India, especially East Bengal and Mohun Bagan were probably the first ones to have an organised fan base. Supporters who were passionate about their team filled up the stadiums, supported their players, and celebrated with gusto. The fans remained committed to their teams irrespective of ups and downs. And it is not just about sports alone — when Mohun Bagan won the IFA Shield in 1911 beating the East Yorkshire Regiment, it was not just for the club and its fans but it was a victory for the Indian freedom movement.

Indian cricket has several organised fan clubs. Bharat Army has a 1.4 million-strong fan base, many of whom are based outside the country. This fan base ensures that a group of hundreds of fans will be present at any team India cricket event anywhere across the globe. Nowadays, IPL teams, ISL and I-League football teams, and Pro Kabaddi teams all have organised fan bases.

Today, our Olympics team needs the support of 1.3 billion Indians. A set of advocates who will support the athletes, cheer them irrespective of whether they bring medals home or not. We need not just one but multiple organised fan clubs for Indian athletics.

The Olympics will end on August 8. The next few weeks will be about celebrating the champions who come back with glory for India. All the athletes will go back to their grind of training, conditioning and more training. Unlike cricket or football that has a calendar of events all around the year, for a lot of our athletes,

it will be a wait till the next big events, which are the Asian Games and Commonwealth games in 2022 and then the next Olympics in 2024. Our athletes need the fan base to be with them all throughout and not just during the big sporting events.

Manchester United has a fan base of over a billion. An overwhelming majority of them are outside England, in countries like China, India and in the Middle East, in Africa, and Americas. The Red Devil fans root for the team, watch matches together, connect on social media. The 1.3 billion fans of the Indian Olympic team can be a virtual army who are connected by one passion — the athletes and their sport and giving India its rightful place in world sport. Fans are not just important for the athletes but also for holding the mirror to the entire sporting ecosystem. In April this year, when 12 of the richest and most successful football clubs in Europe decided to break away and form their own league, the biggest protest came from the fans.

The fans came out in big numbers protesting this move, saying it was against the spirit of football. Fans of the Indian Olympics contingent can be the collective conscience that holds organisations accountable and ensure that they remain true to the spirit and ideals of sport.

As Indian athletes prepare to compete with the best of the world, a clarion call #Cheer4India has been made by the Hon’ble Prime Minister to rally round our contingent. Let’s all wish that the Indian Olympic team flies and we the 1.3 billion Indians be the wind beneath their wings.

The writer is the co-founder and CEO of Mobile Premier League and a trustee of the MPL Sports Foundation. MPL Sports Foundation is the Principal Partner of the Indian Olympics contingent to Tokyo

Published on July 22, 2021

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