Even as the Commonwealth Games to be held in less than a month in New Delhi remain riddled in corruption and controversy, just like the Indian Premiere League for Cricket that preceded it, India is becoming the sports world’s superstar. Not only are Indian billionaires bidding top money for international teams but sports that have remained relatively relegated are being encouraged.
Recently, Indian billionaires, also listed amongst the world’s richest men, Mukesh Ambani, Chairman of Reliance Industries and Subrata Roy, Head of the Sahara Group which sponsored the IPL, bid to buy English premier League team Liverpool. Ambani and Roy have reached a decision to pay the club’s £237m debt and in bargain hold a 51 percent stake. According to British media reports, as many as six potential parties are looking to buy the 18-times English champions. It has also been widely rumoured that businessman Kenny Huang, backed by the £209 billion Chinese Investment Corporation (CIC), is also in the fray as American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett put the club on sale, however, neither have confirmed this.
Following India’s inadequate response to anything besides cricket, which is revered akin to God, NBA is hoping to popularize basketball in the 1.1 billion nation, just as they brought about a sporting revolution in China a decade ago with Yao Ming. To get their act into gear, Orlando Magic is sending Dwight Howard their star player to India to set up basketball training facilities, enthuse young basketball afinacadoes and make basketball the second-most popular sport in India behind cricket.
“It’s a very big priority for the NBA,” Heidi Ueberroth, president of NBA International told USA Today. “It is a long-term view, but we do expect rapid growth…Every single metric you look (at), people are looking for more entertainment options and sporting options,” Ueberroth added. Making the most of this, she said, begins with infrastructure and grass-roots efforts — providing access to courts and creating chances to play organized ball. The NBA’s interest in India follows its efforts to popularize basketball in China. The league first played an exhibition game in China in 1979. Today, basketball and the NBA are wildly popular there.
The NBA will have to take some long strides in gaining popularity in India, where funds for games besides cricket which do not attract as many eyeballs are low, facilities are abysmal and motivation to attract new, young, budding talent absent. India recently saw the death of hockey, her national sport and has been unable to present the world with world class facilities for an international sporting event like the commonwealth games. In a country where the people are generally short and sports is not a priority, basketball has a long shot.