Shaziya Khan
Guest Article

The Field of Dreams: Tapping a rising sports obsession

Our guest author delves into how India's hosting of badminton, hockey, table tennis, and cricket events in 2024 ignites a national sports fervour.

2024 boasts an array of global sporting events like the Olympics, Euro 2024, and the Tour de France. Additionally, India is set to host a wide range of sporting events, including badminton, hockey, table tennis, and cricket. It's a thrilling time for sports fans.

The evolving love for sports hints at a growing inclination towards discipline, vision, and excellence despite limitations — we find our way out and up. The small and sweet moments related to sports are often ignored, but they keep us grounded. It’s worth looking at them, worth remembering what they do for us.

In the unforgiving climate of stressful studies and conscientious hard work, there is little space for other pursuits. In the interest of a bankable future, often the present is compromised. But when our sports stars started doing well on a global stage, sports began to capture our collective imagination. Suddenly, the spirit of fun and laughter, of achieving the impossible, is back.

India is Mental

That pithy headline on a global marketing document was a connotation about the target audience; it said that the bent of the country is towards excelling in academics. The article wasn’t wrong. Being laser-focused on exams is the norm, especially on acing maths. A centum, a perfect hundred, sets the benchmark for most Indian parents. Closely monitoring test scores is de rigueur, as is subtly yet proudly mentioning competitive ranks. Extra-curricular courses are picked out to give an extra edge. Even in pre-school interviews, tots are expected to define parallelograms.

Childhood games involve guessing capitals of faraway countries. Birthday presents are given to spark the mind. Helicopter mothers, tiger mothers, elephant mothers, buddy moms, audit the competitive landscape and map out unique strategies. The academic landscape contains not one, but two and sometimes even three parallel tracks of knowledge. Nine-to-four is school, five-to-seven tuition classes, and on weekend afternoons there are special certificate courses. Diligent notes are exchanged, multiple math problems are practised daily. Holiday homework abounds.

But in all this logic, a bit of crazy magic peeped out. Sports captured the imagination. The first to spot it were school coaches and local neighbourhood trainers. They spoke of children showing up for early morning camps with shining eyes. Of breathless dreams.

Rural and small-town research revealed daring aspirations of global sporting glory. The sporting path is never easy for anybody and for many, it involved barefoot training in basic facilities with strict discipline and sacrifices on every front. This is a choice far from sage advice, future certainties, or familiar role models. It is mum and dad doing everything they can to support a passion.

Soon the inspiring spirit of sports won over a corner of the heart. Our collective imagination began to wander freely. Just a bit. Grandmothers participated in their first-ever city marathons wearing sarees and sneakers. Moms got ‘seriously serious’ about their forty-five-minute morning walks. Dads started, stopped, and restarted weekend treks or got back to a loved college sport. People in exercise classes did headstands. Friends did Pilates. Enthusiasts cycled for miles. The fit swapped weights and advice on workouts. Sweating it-out selfies became a genre. Breathing exercises, stretching micro-steps, and hydration mantras were everywhere.

Our sports heroes made us cheer in amazement. They shrugged about taking ‘riks’ (risks), went head-to-head in adrenaline-drenched clinchers, and fought their hearts out. In boxing, shooting, badminton, tennis, wrestling, archery, hockey, weightlifting, running, gymnastics, sailing, mountain climbing, javelin, and more. They gave live interviews that made us smile, salute, or cry. Movie makers told stirring stories inspired by their uphill journeys. Musicians composed anthems about their unflinching sporting spirit.

India is mental, yes, but along the way, the ‘n’ got lost in the scramble. The headline on the slide now reads a bit different.

India is Metal

Prompts for brands: How have brands been investing in India’s sporting culture? By highlighting, in different degrees, one or all of these interrelated aspects: mindset, inclusivity, knowledge, platforms. There is potential for brands to build further on these, too.

  1. Mindset: Brands champion the active, intent-filled everyday energy of our sporting mindset, both on and off the field.

  2. Inclusivity: Brands embrace the inclusive nature of our ‘can do’ sporting spirit across age, life stage, gender, geographies, language, income class, facilities, types of sports.

  3. Knowledge: Brands share knowledge of sports, both as inspiration and information: via perspectives, rankings, talent updates, analyses, sporting memorabilia, sports-related storytelling – mainstream and lesser-known too, heroic individual journeys, team journeys; candid learning and sharing via local, national, and global inputs, contexts.

  4. Platform: Brands facilitate ways of engagement for children, parents, amateurs, aspirants, reigning masters, coaches, new talent, fans, spectators, ambassadors, retired sportspeople, events ecosystem, benchmarking, training via visionary platforms – existing and new.

(Our guest author is Shaziya Khan, an award-winning brand communication strategist whose work nurtures leading luxury, wealth, grooming, well-being, and ESG brands.)

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