Originally published on 18 Aug, 2012 on Sportskeeda.
Manu Sawhney, the only Asian in the top ten list of the most influential sports executive, over the last two decades has been appointed as a non-executive board member at Manchester United and Shebby Singh, though a Malaysian, is of Indian origin, is the director of football at Blackburn. Following their appointments, here’s a look at three ways someone of Indian ethnicity at the helm of an international sports franchise can bring some positive changes for the country.
India is a country rich in intellectual capital. So much so that brain drain has become a serious issue for us. Our best and brightest spend their learning years here and then venture abroad for better opportunities. That’s not always a good thing but in some cases, these Indians can get in a position where they can do something good for India through their position abroad.
Bust myths about India not being a sports crazy nation/being a one sport nation
The general perception of India as a sports-crazy nation comes from our fervent obsession with cricket and the fervor it inspires across the nation. Other than that we aren’t really seen as a sports-crazy nation. But these men coming to the forefront of international sports franchises across the world are helping to change the perception of India as a one-sport nation and as a nation lax about sports fever.
Take Shebby Singh, recently appointed director of football at Blackburn Rovers. He has invited some controversy with his outspokenness about his insistence on winning. He remarked on a fan forum that manager Steve Kean will be sacked if he ever loses three games in a row. The motto on his Blackberry reads “Win or die trying”. Shebby Singh played football for Malaysia for 9 years and was a South East Asian Games gold medallist in 1989. Don’t expect him to cut corners when it comes to winning. Vivek Ranadive, co-owner of Golden State Warriors is a passionate basketball fan. While coaching his daughter’s basketball team, he decided to innovate and have his team play to its strengths, which were pretty few. Instead of admitting that the team on his hands is completely inferior to the competition, he decided to determine what their strengths are.
Watching the game he mused why teams just let their opponent bring the ball upcourt without contest. He then advocated a full court press which worked like magic for his team. Their subsequent success exceeded their skills. Its not just cricket this Indian knows. Vivek Ranadive also has a black belt in Tae Kwan Do.
Spread Indian Culture
The Golden State Warriors have hosted Bollywood Nights. Indian theme and culture rules in those celebrations. There’s a prevalent image of India being the land of snakes, spices and sweets. Cultural celebrations such as Bollywood nights do something to dispel that image.
By coincidence, the Warriors have a player name Stephen Curry. Leading to endless puns about Curry.
And this tee shirt. Got Curry? On Bollywood night the first 19000 fans received that free t-shirt. In a NBA arena, around 20000 seats constitute a sellout audience. Bhangra Empire performed at halftime, Indian food was sold at concession stands and the cheerleaders performed Bollywood dances.
Spread the influence of their franchise in India
What’s the first thing you want to do when you come into something awesome? Show it off at home of course. A major sports franchise isn’t a toy to be flaunted here and there at will though. Luckily India is a very attractive and emerging market for sports clubs, and is seen as a smart place to invest in. These men can help bridge the gap between their brand and the sport and India.
Vivek Ranadive has said “I will help with everything from fan base managing customer loyalty programs, structure, community outreach, and gameplay. I would also like to help make it a global brand, especially helping to popularize it in the Indian community.” Even Sawhney has indicated that there may be more Manchester United Soccer Schools (MUSS) coming up in India: “If the club has to utilize its rich fan base, it will have to open more soccer schools across Asia.”
It’ll be exciting to see how someone like Manu Sawhney would work on building their brands along with brand India. There’s a lot for soccer fans in India to look forward to.