Many of India’s sporting superstars have been backed by the Tata Group. Now its sports academies — among the best in the country — are grooming a new generation of winners.
The Group has touched the lives of many others too, like bodybuilder Prem Chand Degra, mountaineer Bachendri Pal, Olympian athletes Lavvy Pinto and Edward Sequeira, as well as cricketers Ajit Agarkar and Ravi Shastri. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, two archers, an athlete and a boxer from the Indian contingent were Tata people.
In the gallery of sporting honors, India has bagged medals at the Olympics, various world championships, the Asian Games, the Commonwealth Games; among the ranks of Dronacharya awardees, Padmashris and Arjuna awardees — there are more sportspersons whispering a quiet thank you to the Tata Group than one can count.
The Tatas are involved in nearly every kind of sporting activity in the country: cricket, tennis, athletics, boxing, badminton, archery, hockey, shooting, swimming, weightlifting, chess, handball, basketball, table tennis, billiards, snooker and more.
Over the years the Group’s coaches have developed a sixth sense for spotting top-quality potential among young sportsmen and women. They are sponsored and their skills are honed with the best resources. These extraordinarily talented people then, more often than not, go on to make their country proud.
Tata Steel has buttressed Indian sports for many years. Most recently, it mentored Bulbul Marandi, who participated in the last world archery championship. The company has a formal sports department, operating since 1970. It started out by employing players proficient in athletics, cycling and boxing. In the 1970s, the teams that represented India in the Asian Games and Olympics comprised a number of Tata Steel and Tata Motors employees. Since then the department has kept on adding games to its portfolio while growing in manifold ways. Today several of the company’s sportspeople have gone on to become coaches in the sports academies run by Tata Steel, which are among the best in the country.
The first of these was the legendary Tata Football Academy (TFA), started in 1987; an assembly line that supplies talent for almost 80 per cent of India’s junior teams. The trainees here are provided the very best of coaching and the absolute latest in technology. This shows in the results. Major clubs such as Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, and Mohammedan Sporting vie to recruit players from TFA. “TFA is the nursery for Indian soccer,” says Satish Pillai, who heads the Academy. “It is the first port of call of budding talent in the country.”
While cricket is more visible at the international level, football fires the popular imagination at the domestic level, says Pillai, showcasing the relevance of TFA. “At a local football event, there will be at least 3,000 spectators, while a Ranji Trophy match won’t draw more than 200 people,” he points out.
TAA has started with middle-distance runners. They are caught young and exposed to infrastructure of the highest international standard: a synthetic track, state-of-the-art gymnasium and international coaches. ”
The rationale for setting up the Tata Archery Academy, in 1996, was completely different. The aim was to help tribal people in Jharkhand maximize a skill they already possessed and thereby find their place in the national mainstream. It has helped people from this backward region become international stars. Not only did the Academy’s cadets win all the medals at the last junior national championship, its archers went on to bag two silver medals at the World Archery Championship.
Tata Steel also supports seven other sports at its JRD Tata Sports Complex in Jamshedpur. This world-class facility has a football ground and an eight-lane polyurethane track. It also has tennis courts, a hockey field, courts for basketball, handball and volleyball, an archery range, chess and boxing centers, and a gymnasium.
The complex is just one of the ways in which Tata Steel has turned sports into a way of life, for employees and others. The company also supports a flying club, golf courses, squash courts, billiards tables, a horse-riding range and a swimming pool.
This aside, Tata Steel sponsors sports events at different levels – district, state, national and even international – for sportspersons to showcase their skills. It has hosted events ranging from the JRD Tata International Invitational Football Championship to the Junior National Archery Championship.
Despite its achievements, Tata Steel has never failed to recognize that one company cannot make a sports movement. It recently instituted the Dorab Tata Award, to recognize and encourage corporate support to sports. It also seeks to spread awareness about sports on August 29 each year, the birthday of Dhyan Chand, India’s greatest hockey player, by organizing events for employees, senior citizens, villagers and children.
The Tata commitment to sports is not dependent on incentives; it’s done because it’s dear to the heart of the Group and its leaders. Rather than looking at what’s in it for the Group, the Tatas have focused on what will take Indian sport ahead, and at helping individuals realize their sporting ambitions.