Beyond Cricket – Indian rugby set to benefit from landmark sponsorship deal

  Indian rugby has received a massive boost in the form of a three-year sponsorship deal between Rugby India and Societe Generale, the French multinational banking and financial services company. The announcement was made at a press conference at the Bombay Gymkhana in Mumbai earlier today.

  Societe Generale has over the years built a deep bond with rugby union across the world, and has played a great role in developing the sport in emerging nations. The banking giant’s investment in rugby began with the French rugby union championship in 1984-85 and since then, it has gone on to support the sport with great commitment.

  Hong Kong, Turkey, Luxembourg and Senegal are among the nations that have greatly benefitted from the involvement of Societe Generale. Its entry into Indian rugby bodes well for the future of the game in the country, which has seen a rapid rise in the participation numbers over the last decade.

  With this landmark deal, Societe Generale will not only support the national Sevens teams – seniors, juniors and women’s – by serving as the title sponsor, but also indulge in the development of rugby at the grass-root and school level. Given its track record in rugby, one would expect that Societe Generale’s association will lead to a brighter future for Indian rugby.

  The conference was graced by Evelyn Collin, the chief executive and country officer of Societe Generale India; Aga Hussain, the Vice President of Asia Rugby; Mahesh Mathai, the Secretary General of Rugby India, and current and former national rugby players including present captain Nasser Hussain and popular veteran Rahul Bose.

  Collin stressed about how there are common values such as team spirit, respect and discipline that link rugby with Societe Generale, and said that she was honoured to be a part of an exciting period in Indian rugby. Mathai gave an overview of how the game is growing in the country, especially the increase in female participation.

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    Participation in women’s rugby in India has increased manifold over the past decade, and the numbers can only grow in the coming years (source – shethepeople.tv)

  Aga Hussain said that India, ranked 12th out of 32 teams in Asia, has the capability of reaching the top five in the continent in the next five years. Bose, who played for India from 1998 to 2009, spoke about the importance of enriching sponsorship for the sport and opined that Societe Generale was the perfect partner for Rugby India.

  Asia today is an important market for World Rugby, what with the vast amount of talent waiting to be tapped. Initially regarded as an elite sport in India, rugby has reached remote areas in the past few years and there are now 55,290 players across the country. Societe Generale’s involvement has the potential to bring about a revolution in Indian rugby.

  The proposed increase in the number of teams (from 20 to 24) at the Rugby World Cup from 2023 underlines World Rugby’s long-term objective of making rugby a truly global sport. Moreover, the 2019 edition is set to be hosted by Japan, an emerging nation that created ripples in the 2015 World Cup by upsetting South Africa.

  2016 is significant for rugby as it makes a return to the Olympics after a gap of 92 years, in the Sevens format. Rugby Sevens has proved to be a highly popular concept in Asia – the Hong Kong Sevens is one of the most prestigious events on the rugby calendar – and in this scenario, the time is ripe for Indian rugby to progress to the next level.

  Ranked 77th out of 102 nations, India would do well to maximise the advantage set to be derived from the relationship between Rugby India and Societe Generale. As Bose said, there could also be the exciting prospect of a televised national rugby league in the next 12 to 18 months – which would be a dream come true for players and fans alike.

  The growth of rugby in India in recent times has been heartening and here’s hoping that following this significant sponsorship deal, the sport will further reach out to the public consciousness and create a positive impact on Indian society.

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Beyond Cricket – Arunima Sinha’s exemplary expedition

  In May 2013, a gritty young woman named Arunima Sinha defied adversity and went on to create history by becoming the first ever female amputee to climb the 8848-metre Mount Everest. With this amazing achievement, she has proven to be an inspiration for thousands of people who might be overwhelmed by obstacles.

  Born in 1988 at Ambedkar Nagar in Uttar Pradesh, Sinha played volleyball and football at the national level before fate took a cruel turn in April 2011. While travelling by train from Lucknow to Delhi for the purpose of appearing for an examination to join the CISF, she was pushed out by a group of thieves wanting to snatch her bag and gold chain.

  Despite putting up a resistance, she fell off and her leg was run over and crushed by an oncoming train. Due to the seriousness of the injury, doctors had no option but to amputate the leg in order to save her life. A few months later, she was provided with a prothestic leg free of cost by a private company.

  While her treatment was in process, Sinha resolved to climb Mount Everest after having drawn inspiration from cricketer Yuvraj Singh’s successful battle with cancer. She completed a mountaineering course from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, Uttarkashi.

  Having got used to her prothestic leg by now, she got in touch with Bachendri Pal – renowned for being the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest in 1984 – and enrolled for training under her. In 2012, she climbed the 6150-metre Island Peak as preparation for her Everest expedition.

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      Arunima Sinha with Akhilesh Yadav and Ratan Tata at an event (source- dailyhunt.in)

  Sinha began her journey on April 1, 2013 alongwith instructor Susen Mahto and reached the summit of Mount Everest at 10.55 a.m on May 21, 2013, as part of the ‘Eco Everest Expedition’ sponsored by the Tata Group. She thus became the first female amputee in the world to scale the world’s highest mountain peak – astonishingly, just two years after suffering a life-threatening accident.

  In recognition of Sinha’s courageous feat, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav awarded her Rs 25 lakh, which included 20 lakh on behalf of the state government plus a cash reward of 5 lakh from the Samajwadi Party. Yadav told her that she had not only brought laurels to the state but also earned a name for the country, adding that he hoped others would gain inspiration from her efforts.

  On receiving the honour, Sinha said that she was elated to have transformed a supposed disability into her greatest strength. Before climbing the peak, she had said that she wanted to achieve a feat “so that people stop looking at me with pity”. 

  She has written a book “Born Again on The Mountain”, launched by Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi in December 2014 and also was fittingly awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award of India, in 2015.

  Arunima Sinha is now dedicated towards social welfare and she wants to open a free sports academy for the poor and differently-abled athletes. She is donating all the financial aids she is getting through awards and seminars for the same cause. On her ambition of setting up this academy, Yadav assured cooperation by the government “whenever she desired to give shape to it”.

  Keeping in mind Yadav’s recently-developed commitment towards encouraging various sports disciplines in the state, it is not surprising to see his support for Sinha’s project. Such achievements can spark a lot of positivity and hope in those who aspire to reach greater heights despite all odds.

  The resilience of exemplary individuals like Sinha coupled with the foresight of the state government can only lead to greater benefits for India’s sporting culture.

Beyond Cricket – Lucknow set for a footballing boost

  Uttar Pradesh is a state that one would not usually associate with the sport of football. It has never won the inter-state Santosh Trophy and very few players from the state have represented India at the highest level.

  However, if all goes well, the state is all set to recieve a massive shot in the arm as far as the promotion of football is concerned. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, who is known to be a keen sports aficionando, unveiled late last year an ambitious plan to construct a world-class football stadium in the capital city of Lucknow.

  The stadium itself is part of a larger sporting blueprint, which has envisaged a top-notch sports city near Shaheed Path on Sultanpur Road. Yadav had broken the news in September 2015 at an event in Agra where he was present to launch the logo of the Delhi Dynamos football club. The Dynamos play in the Indian Super League, which was started in 2014.

  Yadav had then said that football is the most popular sport in the world and is played in some states of India; therefore it would not be good if Uttar Pradesh lagged behind in this respect. He assured full support to the spread of football in the state and was also hopeful that more players from the state would go on to represent the Dynamos in the future, adding that ‘its biggest advantage is that it is not an expensive game and can be played anywhere.’

  According to a government official, the initial plan was for a football field in the sports city. However, the Chief Minister made a brief visit to the project site in December and proclaimed that a first-rate, full-fledged football stadium should be built instead. The stadium is slated to be built on an area measuring 7.5 acres, out of the 137 acres allotted for the sports city.

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      Akhilesh Yadav during a Delhi Dynamos event in 2015. Standing to his right is Brazilian football legend Roberto Carlos (source – ani)

  The estimated cost of the stadium is pegged to be about Rs. 252 crore, of which Rs. 189 crore would be the cost of the stadium building and the remaining Rs. 63 crore would be for a covered underground parking facility big enough for 750 cars. The capacity of the stadium is expected to be 20,000 across a three-storied stand.

  The size of the field, visitors and corporate boxes and all other facilities and amenities would be as per the standards prescribed by the International Football Association. Currently, Lucknow does not have a full-fledged football ground; the K.D Singh Babu Stadium – predominantly a cricket stadium – is often used for football matches. But this development will gave the game a new identity in the city.

  There is probably no country on earth which has been untouched by the charm of football. Widely known as the ‘beautiful game’, football is by far the most global of sports and its World Cup is easily the most-watched team sporting event.

  Furthermore, the premier European club tournaments are followed passionately even in countries where football is largely treated as a secondary sport. India is no stranger to such footballing frenzy despite the national team’s perennial struggles.

  India are currently placed at the 160th position out of 204 nations in the FIFA rankings – a figure that certainly does not make for good reading. Given its huge population and the constant rise in the poularity of football across both urban and rural areas, it is hard to fathom why India have not been able to build a reasonably competitive football team. The Indian Super League has shown promise in its two years, but will it translate to stronger international displays?

  The traditional football strongholds in the country have been West Bengal, Goa, Kerala and the north-eastern states. Beyond these regions, football does evince interest but quality players are few and far in between. With a view to provide an impetus to the growth of the game in a highly promising market, FIFA has significantly allotted the 2017 Under-17 World Cup to India. This will be the first time that India will be hosting a FIFA event and it remains to be seen how effective it is for the football scene in the country.

  Considering the sporting revolution that the Uttar Pradesh government has pledged to bring about, there is optimism that the proposed stadium will have an impact on changing the footballing landscape of the state. Football is the second most-followed sport in the country and Uttar Pradesh has the most number of people – which augurs well for the game’s development.

  The road ahead may be arduous, but the Lucknow international stadium is clearly a step in the right direction.

Beyond Cricket – Promotion of sports a high priority for Uttar Pradesh government

  In recent times, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has often made clear his intentions to bring about a drastic improvement in sporting infrastructure in the state. Besides this, better recognition of athletes and quality training exposure is high on the agenda.

  Various ambitious plans of constructing stadiums and swimming pools in the state have been envisaged in the past year, and the government has aimed at concerted efforts to make Uttar Pradesh a world-class sporting destination. Yadav is of the opinion that better infrastructure would duly lead to the coming out of sporting talent from the state.

  Uttar Pradesh has over the years produced quite a few stellar sporting stars, with the legendary hockey wizard Dhyan Chand being the jewel in the state’s sporting crown. It is this legacy that Yadav’s Samajwadi Party wishes to take forward and with that end in view, he has taken it upon himself to promote the inculcation of sports culture among the aspiring youngsters in the state.

  The purposeful projects include major stadiums for both cricket and football in the capital city of Lucknow. The state-of-the-art cricket stadium on Sultanpur Road, to be christened as the Lucknow International Cricket Stadium, is currently under construction and Yadav believes that it will be complete in the first quarter of 2017.

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     Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav greets badminton players during the Indian Badminton League (source – IBL/ndtv.com)

  The announcement regarding the football stadium came last year, when Yadav broke the news during an event for launching the new logo of the Delhi Dynamos football club. Another significant development for Lucknow is slated to be the the large-scale cycling academy – the first of its kind in the state.

  Outside of Lucknow, Yadav’s native village of Saifai in the Etawah district has garnered attention because of its connection with the sporting revamp in the state. The plans for Saifai include a first-of-its-kind Sports University and sprucing up of several infrastructure facilities in the Saifai Kreeda Sankul (Sports Complex), spread over more than 80 acres of land.

  Furthermore, Saifai has also seen a gradual improvement in facilities for indoor sports such as wrestling, basketball and badminton. An all-weather swimming pool has also been confirmed. This project aims at creating an international-level swimming zone and will add to the existing pool at the Chandagi Ram Stadium. It will boast of a practice pool, a main pool and a diving pool all under one roof.

  The country’s national game is also being given due attention by Yadav’s government. A synthetic astroturf arena has been proposed in Saifai, which will cater to the requirements of international field hockey. Hockey has seen a revival in the state of late thanks to the U.P Wizards who ply their trade in the Hockey India League, and this bodes well for the future of the game.

  The government’s commitment to development of world-class sporting facilities in the state can be gauged from the fact that last year, the state’s Sports Department refused to part with the land reserved for the proposed sports complex to the Tourism Department, which was looking to build a guest house there.

  The proposed university is also expected to offer specialised courses in sport-related fields such as sports biomechanics, sports health and sports physics. Moreover, Yadav has also pledged to consider improved facilities for lawn tennis and has roped in India’s top-ranked tennis player Sania Mirza to encourage and guide the young talent in the state.

  While the projects cannot be expected to bear fruit overnight, one cannot deny that the state government’s efforts will ultimately benefit the nation. As the Chief Minister of India’s most populous state, Yadav has done well to realise that there is a huge amount of untapped sporting potential existing in Uttar Pradesh.

Beyond Cricket – Exciting times ahead for cycle lovers in U.P

  Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, might well be on the verge of a cycling revolution. Regarded as the common man’s mode of transport across the country, the humble cycle is set to take centre stage in the state if recent happenings are any indication.

  Back in 2014, Uttar Pradesh’s young and dynamic Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav visited the Netherlands and evinced keen interest in gaining inspiration from the Dutch’s cycling structure. Cycling forms approximately 57 percent of all modes of transportation in the Netherlands and thus the country boasts of a network of top-class cycling tracks and arenas.

  With the seeds of an ambitious plan sown, the Chief Minister eventually announced in March 2015 that Lucknow’s Guru Govind Singh Sports College will be housing the state’s first full-fledged cycling academy.

  Slated to be developed on a 10-acre area with a budget of Rs. 168 crore, it was revealed that the academy and its surrounding hostels would be in the form of a complex. Fittingly, the rooftop of the complex would be in the shape of a bicycle – incidentally the election symbol of Yadav’s Samajwadi Party.

  The primary objective of the plan would be to provide world-class facilities to cyclists and also to serve as a venue where international competitions could be hosted. Emphasis would also be laid on preparing and training students for international level competitions.

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  Besides helping professional cyclists to hone their skills, the proposed academy can also be expected to promote the benefits of cycling – both to human health and to environmental purity.

  Arrangements are being made to ensure that as many as 4500 people can be accommodated at one time at the academy, which will be centrally air-conditioned. While the campus would be covered, the rooftop will have provisions for opening in order to hold events in natural light.

  Eight cycle tracks are being planned as part of the velodrome – made of Belgian pine wood, which will solely be used for the purpose of competitions. A separate concrete track will be built for routine practice.

  Later in 2015, the Chief Minster affirmed that Lucknow would soon boast of the country’s largest and most comprehensive cycle track network – of abut 270 kilometres. This would also conform with the state government’s constant efforts to promote green and non-motorised transport.

  Ever since Yadav’s thought-provoking European sojourn, U.P state officials have been busy trying to judge the most feasible options to develop tracks in the capial city.

  With Lucknow’s pollution levels increasing by the day, the vision of the Uttar Pradesh government should be lauded. It is encouraging to see the country’s most populous state take the lead in promoting the many benefits of cycling and make concrete efforts towards making the country more bicycle-friendly.

  Given the potential of cycling in India, such ideas have been hitherto disappointingly been few and far between. Uttar Pradesh can prove to be the guiding light in this respect. 

  It remains to be seen whether other state governments cash in on the increasingly health-conscious mindsets of the Indian populace as well as the desire of athletes to excel beyond conventional sports.

  Here’s hoping that the inauguration of the cycle academy will pave the way for a much-needed, healthier cycling environment in India.