Think of a well-known sport in India and, most likely, you’ll come up with cricket.
Thanks to the country’s British Raj connections – and matches that date back as far as the 18th century – cricket in India is big business both locally and internationally.
But while it continues to dominate India’s sporting stage, cricket is not the only player in its professional arena.
In the past decade there’s been explosive growth in the business of sport in India with some ‘new kids on the block’ – including football, basketball, tennis, hockey and even the ancient game of kabbadi – stepping up to the professional plate.
Dr Adam Karg, course director of the sport management program in the Deakin Business School (DBS), has recently returned from a series of workshops and meetings that focused on knowledge sharing and boosting the professionalisation of India’s sports system – an industry that he says is booming.
‘There’s been incredible growth of professional leagues in India. As a program, we’ve been undertaking trips to India for the past five years and back then, it was limited to cricket as far as corporate sport was concerned. But now there’s a range of professional leagues including soccer and kabbadi - a game that’s been around for almost 5000 years and is a combination of red rover, tag and wrestling’
Dr Karg was joined by DBS sport management colleagues Geoff Schoenberg – a research fellow examining sport governance in India– and Drs Paul Gastin and Stuart Warmington from Deakin’s School of Sport Exercise and Nutrition Sciences.
‘It was fantastic to partner with Centre for Sport colleagues [Faculty of Health] for this trip and have sport science, governance, management and marketing all represented. Previously, our focus has been primarily on sport management as a discipline and career opportunities within it, however this growing industry has an interest and desire to develop capacity in the area of sports science including coaching, talent identification and elite athlete development systems to support professional players,’ he explains.
So what’s driving the growth of grassroots’ development and organisation across India’s sports?
Dr Karg says that while private investment is a big player, altruism is also showing its hand.
‘Corporate organisations realise that there’s money to be made out of the professionalisation and commercialisation of sport but there’s also the realisation that sport can actually add a lot of social value,’ he explains. ‘India also has rules that require organisations to donate a small percentage back into corporate social responsibility so we’re also seeing some investment flow back into grassroots sport. Largely, though, it’s the recognition that organisations can really make an impact – financial or otherwise.’
The Deakin academics spent two days each in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore where they held workshops and meetings with practitioners, coaches, players, and managers from national and regional sport organisations, professional teams and other community or private organisations.
These networks, built in partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and the Australian Trade and Investment Commission (AUSTRADE), have enabled Deakin to establish strong academic, industry and government links across India over the past five years.
And with more than 70 Indian postgraduate students enrolled in Deakin’s sport management programs, Dr Karg says there’s added importance to continue strengthening opportunities for both international and domestic students.
‘For example, we have a partnership with the Rising Pune Super Giants – a cricket team competing in the Indian Premier League – so trips like this are also making sure that we can leverage our partnerships to give our students great internship opportunities in India. More widely, the visit allowed us to connect with a range of sports’ organisations in India and allows us to identify potential employers and their needs given some of our international graduates will be returning to look for jobs.’
As well as investigating research partnership possibilities, this grassroots engagement ensures that Deakin’s sport management teaching continues to be contemporary and highly relevant.
‘All the conversations we have, and the people we meet, help us understand the context locally,’ says Dr Karg. ‘Many Australian national sport organisations work on the ground in India around regional community development programs - so it’s highly likely if you’re an Australian graduate you’ll work in one of these organisations and need to understand the Indian market. Also importantly, for our Indian students returning after their studies, we need to have a good understanding of how the market is developing.’
With over 100 attendees at the industry sessions, Dr Karg says the overall response was extremely positive with the workshops facilitating opportunities for both feedback and future planning.
‘It’s about trying to understand what’s next. Five years ago we were defining what sport management is and really convincing the India community that sport could offer professional careers. But the market is now talking about more specific needs – such as marketing analytics, governance and strategic planning, development and coaching – there’s a much more sophisticated understanding of the areas within sport management and that indicates that our message is working.’
He says the smaller organisations that attended Deakin’s sessions in India four or five years ago are now thriving and there’s also a strong representation of Deakin graduates holding senior roles.
Deakin Research Fellow Geoff Schoenberg says the professionalisation of sport in India is also facilitating research.
‘The growth has opened up new opportunities to research how a sport system grows and develops. More specifically, the use of contemporary research methods, such as action research, can lead to real impact in the Indian sport sector,’ he explains.
Next year, in a first for Deakin’s sport management students, a study tour is planned to coincide with the Indian Premier League tournament.
But Dr Karg says 2017 will also be about expanding opportunities to further equip India’s future sports’ leaders.
‘We’re looking at hosting a series of master classes and training sessions in India – from two to three days to longer courses that will focus on specific topics – and we’ll continue to build internship opportunities that provide hands-on experience for Deakin students.’
Over the past five years, Deakin’s reputation in sport management programs has cemented a meaningful and growing footprint in India and Dr Karg says the university plays a significant role in the professionalisation of its sports’ industry.
‘We’ve been delivering sport management programs at Deakin for 25 years and many of our graduates are now CEOs or senior managers in the industry. Likewise, we’re very strategic about our role and impact in India. We hope that over the next five to 10 years we’ll start to see the same pattern – Deakin graduates gaining strong roles and really driving the professionalisation of the industry.’