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Business side of sports very fragmented: JSW Sports' Manisha Malhotra

No consolidation has been made to create an industry of sports, she says

Manisha Malhotra – Head of Sports Excellence and Scouting, JSW Sports. Photo: Manisha Malhotra

Manisha Malhotra – Head of Sports Excellence and Scouting, JSW Sports. Photo: Manisha Malhotra

Abhishek Singh New Delhi
Athletes should be allowed to voice their opinion and think on their own, says Manisha Malhotra, head of sports excellence and scouting at JSW Sports. Malhotra is credited, along with other people, in nurturing athletes like Neeraj Chopra, the first Indian to win an individual gold in track and field in Olympics.

The management side of sports needs professionals who may or may not be athletes, Malhotra told Abhishek Singh in an interview edited lightly here for clarity and brevity.

What does a talent scout do? How do you find a talent like Neeraj Chopra?

Now that Neeraj has achieved the highest laurels, everybody wants to talk about him. But the idea that we work on is very different and unique. The talent scouting space is very nascent and we are going down to the grassroots level and district-level competitions to find the athletes. At the Inspire Institute of Sports, the coaches go to different clubs where there is a cultural bias towards a certain sport to try and find talents.

For example, we went to pockets of Manipur and set up a centre there in partnership with SAI (Sports Authority of India) to try and find Judokas as the place is famous for combat sports. As of now, this method is fine, but we are looking to get sports science involved in this process to guide the athletes better.

What are the hurdles that you have faced in building the Inspire Institute of Sports?

There is always a certain amount of pushback, doubts and apprehensions whenever someone starts something new. We fought a lot of battles. Usually, athletes don’t want to move away from their comfort zone. That’s why initially we did not have people signing up for our programs and moving their bases from up north or northeast of India to down south (IIS’s main campus is located in Vijayanagar)

Since we mostly deal in combat sports like wrestling, boxing and judo, our majority of pupils come from north India or northeast which is the base of these sports. However, we are now full of athletes and don’t have space.

As a former tennis player yourself, how favourable do you think the sport environment has become for Indian women?

Historically, the gap between Indian women and the world standard of any sport is very less as compared to Indian men and the world standard of the sports they participate in. Indian women are not so far off the world standard marker. This has helped women get to a competitive level even with lesser resources available to them.

The big difference is the opportunity that women are getting now. In boxing, wrestling and combat sports, women are doing well and I believe that women will form a crucial part of India going to the double digits in the Paris Olympics.

Also, if you consider the rewards and returns factor, it is much higher on the women's side of the game than the men's. Hence Indian women are more likely to bring medals at the world level if provided with greater resources.

How do you think the PPP (public-private-partnership) model could work to build a strong sports infrastructure?

There is no shortage of talent per se in the country. Every stakeholder needs to understand what works for them and what doesn’t. It is a David and Goliath situation between SAI and other private centres as far as resources and area coverage is concerned.

One needs to understand that private players are very much necessary in channelising India’s potential into medals. Everybody needs to work together.

Germany has 85 private training centres. If we compare it with our population and size, we need to have at least 100-200 centres.

Is it tough to get into sports management as a woman?

The business side of sports is still very fragmented. There are various small players but no consolidation has been made to create an industry of sports. Culturally, we are not sports-inclined, and sports as a business or career choice does not come into our minds naturally. The task is uphill but when sports are run by professionals, the change would surely come.

It’s the question of finding the right talent. I am an athlete but I have done courses on sports management as well. Athletes do have an inherent advantage in their own sports. But the management side of sports needs professionals who may or may not be athletes.

For any man or woman to enter sports management, the profession needs to provide stability, once that happens, things will automatically brighten up.

For the 2024 Olympics, which athletes is JSW focusing on and who are medal prospects?

We have several hopefuls. Neeraj will go in as a favourite no doubt. But the likes of Murli Sreeshankar (long jump), Jeshwin Aldrin (long jump), Avinash Sable (middle distance runner), Mohd Husamuddin (boxing), Manisha Moun (boxing) and Nishant Dev (boxing) will be counted as medal hopefuls as well. So I am hoping to have eight-nine athletes from IIS vouching for a medal.

The recent spat in the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) is said to have exposed loopholes people in power use against athletes in training centres. What is your view?

It is important to empower athletes to think on their own. Worldwide, there is always politics involved in sports. It is a two-way street. Athletes should be given a way to voice their opinion. I believe shortcomings are always there and it is from all sides, be it administrators, athletes or the governors of the sports. It needs to be addressed positively.

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First Published: Apr 25 2023 | 8:11 PM IST

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