SPORTS TRIBUNE Saturday, August 4, 2001, Chandigarh, India

Tennis coaching is big business
M.S. Unnikrishnan
NOTWITHSTANDING the high cost involved, tennis coaching is big business in the country. It takes enormous effort to produce a tennis player of class. But despite the cost, effort and planning needed to make a good tennis player, more and more kids are taking to the game, as never before.

More awareness of hockey needed
Ramu Sharma
Y any standards the recently concluded World Cup Hockey Qualifying Tournament in Edinburgh has been a disaster as far as India is concerned. That the team made it to the main tournament to be held in Malaysia next year is not the issue. It is perhaps the only saving grace for a team which started as favourite for the title and finished, gasping for breath, fifth and just about that.

They may gamble, but they mean business
Alan Ruddock
OR two very private individuals, it was a very public investment. John Magnier and J.P. McManus, the Irish billionaires who last week doubled their stake in Manchester United to just under 7 per cent, prefer to make their money well away from public scrutiny and public interest. Their willingness to forgo their beloved anonymity and take a high-profile stake in one of the world’s highest- profile football clubs is a clear signal that this is no vanity investment.




Tennis coaching is big business
M.S. Unnikrishnan

NOTWITHSTANDING the high cost involved, tennis coaching is big business in the country. It takes enormous effort to produce a tennis player of class. But despite the cost, effort and planning needed to make a good tennis player, more and more kids are taking to the game, as never before.

When Leander Paes branched out of the Brittannia-Amritraj Tennis Academy (BAT) in Chennai in the mid-eighties, to be on his own, he had only his talent to bank upon, and not much money in his bank account, though his father, former hockey Olympian Dr Vece Paes, had a flourishing practice as a doctor in Kolkata. But as the Paeses soon realised, to be seen and heard in the hard as nut professional tennis circuit, one needed tons of money, which even the comparatively affluent Dr Vece Paes couldn’t afford, without outside support. And the outside support took long in coming, as Leander took quite a while to make his mark at the international level, though he had time and again proved unbeatable in the domestic circuit.

The sun eventually shone on Leander when he won the junior Wimbledon title in 1989. Leander had “arrived” in the international circuit, in a manner of speaking, but not quite, as he still had a long way to go, to hit the big league. But the one good fallout of the junior Wimbledon title triumph for Leander was that the ever magnanimous people of Kolkata rose to a man to pitch in with their might to help the young man progress in his tennis career. Leander also kept his hopes and spirits alive by winning matches, like nobody else’s business, in the Davis Cup, to make him a national icon. Still, the money in large quantity was not coming, and the sponsors kept away from the Paeses’ doors.

“I am at my wit’s end”, Dr Vece Paes had once bemoaned to this writer about the lack of sponsors for Leander, despite his prodigious talent. Dr Paes had exhausted all his savings and some minor sponsors like “Officers Choice” were not exactly fulfilling Leander’s exacting professional tennis demands. It needed more than Rs 50 lakh per year, most of which in foreign exchange, to keep the junior Paes floating in the international circuit.

Dr Paes had to “beg, borrow and steal” to see his son’s tennis career flourish, which came to fruition when Leander won the individual bronze medal in the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. Leander Paes, the tennis pro, had finally hit the big league, to make the sponsors sit up, and take note of him. That Leander collected more than a crore of rupees in sponsorship deals and awards within a matter of hours on his return from Atlanta is the stuff dreams are made of.

And then, one by one, things started falling in place, as the Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi pair started hitting pay dirt in the doubles circuit from 1997, starting with the Golf Flake ATP Tour event in Chennai. They then went on to record some incredible victories in the Grand Slam circuit, culminating in triumphs in the French and Australian Opens, and eventually at the mother of all tennis tournaments — the Wimbledon. They also created waves at the US Open. They also accumulated titles in the ATP tour events, besides, of course, keeping the country’s flag fluttering in Davis Cup. But behind the sheen of success lay a trail of sweat, blood and tears, despite the seeming affluence of both Leander and Mahesh.

Mahesh had joined the big boys’ club after creating waves in the University tennis scene in the United States. Krishna Bhupathi, a Dubai-based banker, had earned his millions in the Gulf country to liberally help the fledgling tennis career of his young son, which, at one stage, had looked a no go, as Mahesh had been unable to make much of an impression in his singles game. And despite his good showing in Davis Cup, Mahesh could not attain major breakthroughs, though things changed dramatically after he captured the French Open mixed doubles title, in the company of a Japanese lass. Ever since, Mahesh and Leander have been on a roll, though their temporary split in 2000 had almost forced the sun set on their promising tennis career.

Krishna Bhupathi had his millions wisely invested for Mahesh to take calculated risks in the international circuit. When the senior Bhupathi could not accompany the young Mahesh on his tour, their cook was made to accompany Mahesh, in the absence of a personal coach. The Bhupathis have since set up a “Tennis Village” in Bangalore to impart professional coaching to budding youngsters, and also to make some moola, as a viable business proposition. But then, how many budding players can boast of resourceful parents like Dr Vece Paes and Mr Krishna Bhupathi?

Tennis is, without doubt, a rich man’s sport. The poor just cannot afford to aspire for tennis stardom. Ask Vijay Amritraj, ask Ramesh Krishnan, they will tell you how much their parents had to slog to make them tennis stars. Maggie and Robert Amritraj had to pitch in with all their savings to make their three sons — Anand, Vijay and Ashok — tennis stars. Ramesh Krishnan had the privilege of being born as the son of the legendary player Ramanathan Krishnan. So he was taught to pace out and space out his career, as efficiently as possible, from a very young age. The expenses are so sky-rocketing that middle class and even upper middle class kids can never dream of becoming stars unless some benevolent benefactor comes to their aid, as had happened to a lower-middle class boy named Sunil Kumar Sipahey of Chandigarh. Sunil Kumar is the product of a very liberal junior tennis development programme launched by the Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association in association with the state-owned Punwire. The Punwire programme is no more as the sponsors apparently overreached their budget, and eventually even the company was forced to pull down the shutters. With the folding up of Punwire, the doors were shut on poor, but talented players of the like of Sunil Kumar. Sunil had created a sensation in Indian tennis when he captured the senior national hard court title in Delhi, at the tender age of 16 years, two years ago. But the national title was no guarantee for Sunil’s further growth as a player, till Paes-En-Sports, the sports promotion company of Dr Vece Paes, stepped in to take Sunil under its wings. Sunil’s performance in the junior Wimbledon this year is a clear testimony of the progress he has made, and the promise he holds.

“Tennis is a very costly sport. It’s indeed beyond the reach of ordinary people”, Ramesh Krishnan, the Indian Davis Cup non-playing captain, had observed some time back. Unfortunately, there is no institutionalised set-up to promote promising kids with no money to take up tennis as a career. The All-India Tennis Association (AITA) has not done much to nurture talent at the grass-root level, due to financial constraints, and the players who have come up, have done so on their own steam.

A player has to shell out anything between Rs 5,000 to Rs 7,000 as coaching fee every month. And for racquets and apparel, a player has to spend more than Rs 10,000. A decent tennis racquet costs about Rs 3,000, and a pair of shoes cost Rs 2000 to Rs 5,000. So one can imagine how much it takes to become a tennis player. Yet, more than two lakh kids have enrolled in the junior tennis programmes all over the country.

In a place like Delhi tennis facilities abound, though their precincts are not open to everyone. For the common folks, there are coaching centres of the likes of the Sports Authority of India at the National Stadium and the Nehru Stadium, and DDA’s Siri Fort Sport Complex. There are any number of clubs offering tennis coaching facilities around the city, like the Gymkhana Club, the Panchsheel Club, the Chelmsford Club etc. But even at these centres, tennis coaching comes with a price, as coaches charge hefty sums for “specialised attention”.

The Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA’s) facility at Hauz Khas offers exclusive atmosphere for tennis, with experienced coaches imparting training. But the DLTA courts are out of bound for most, like the Delhi Golf Club, as getting admission to the DLTA is an Herculean task. A seasoned tennis coach disclosed that for a junior player to attain a reasonable level of tennis standard by the time he or she becomes 14 years of age, it would cost anything between Rs 10 lakh to Rs 12 lakh. And if a player opts to dabble in the international circuit, the costs would go up further, as most of the money would have to be spent in foreign exchange. No wonder, most of the tennis parents are money bags, with very deep pockets. A coach charges anything between Rs 150 to Rs 200 for an hour’s service, and not many parents can afford that kind of money, for sure, as it needs about three to four hours of daily practice for a player to make some grade.

The lawyer-father of Nirupama Vaidyanathan was taking a very major risk when he went along with his daughter’s wishes of wanting to turn a pro in the women’s circuit. Ditto is the case with the doctor parents of Manisha Malhotra, another talented woman player, who too has opted to follow the path charted out by Nirupama, India’s first woman tennis pro.

New kids on the block like Harsh Mankad and Mustafa Ghouse have rich parents to back their tennis aspirations, while Prahlad Srinath, Syed Fazaluddin, Vijay Kannan and Manoj Mahadevan are all middle class kids struggling to make it big at the bigger stage. The parents of talented woman players like Sania Mirza, Usma Khan, Shruti Dhawan and Radhika Tulpule are overstretching themselves to make their daughters a name to reckon with in the tennis firmament, with the right kind of exposure, and competitions. But every step forward costs money, and only those with money and talent can make it.

Many of the parents have built courts in their backyards for their children to practice without hindrance. Ramesh Krishnan had that kind of facility. The Venkataraman sisters, Archana and Arathi, too have tennis courts in their backyard in Bangalore. The lure of tennis is so great, after Leander and Mahesh started raking in the dollars, that even middle class parents are putting their wards into tennis classes, never mind the expenses.

The AITA has been creating noises and making feeble efforts to promote tennis, but nothing much has happened really? The AITA’s move to promote tennis through the tennis club concept may further alienate ordinary folks from tennis, as the “club culture” will attract only the rich and the powerful. But the well-meaning AITA secretary, Mr Anil Khanna, assures us that the tennis club concept, being pioneered at the DLTA with the setting up of the Indian Tennis Centre, will revolutionalise the game in the country as the profits earned from the club will enable the AITA to promote tennis activities without imposing much financial burden on the federation. The Indian Tennis Centre, coming up at the sprawling DLTA facility in Hauz Khas, with a swanky club house, swimming pool, squash courts, spa, sauna, gym et al, may well change the face of Indian tennis. And if Mr Khanna is to be believed, tennis is poised for a major take-off, into the subaltern terrain.


More awareness of hockey needed
Ramu Sharma

BY any standards the recently concluded World Cup Hockey Qualifying Tournament in Edinburgh has been a disaster as far as India is concerned. That the team made it to the main tournament to be held in Malaysia next year is not the issue. It is perhaps the only saving grace for a team which started as favourite for the title and finished, gasping for breath, fifth and just about that. On looking back one cannot claim to have read about any match which was not difficult for India. In fact even lowly Wales, comparative minnows in this game, made the Indian team puff and pant.

But why Wales alone. India were supposed to be good enough to beat every one of the teams that it met. And in the end it turned out to be pure luck that it survived and progressed to the main tournament. Indeed it was lucky not to lose each and every match. That was the impression available from the sketchy reports.

One hopes a fuller picture of the happenings in Edinburgh will be available once the team comes back and a post-mortem is conducted on the basis of the report submitted by the captain, manager and coach respectively. The public could perhaps have drawn its own conclusion had the media in general, both visual and print, had made available more information.

From the scant information available the team suffered from an age-old sickness - poor shooting. This plus lack of confidence was what could be the main reason for the poor showing. There could be those who would blame the absence of Pillay and a couple of others for the inept display. Indian hockey however, is not that bad that it depends on a few players. The overall standard in India is much better than what was collectively disproved at Edinburgh in the Pre World Cup Tournament.

It is wrong to say that the team failed because the opposition packed its defence. This is not a new ploy. It has been employed by weaker teams for years altogether. These tactics have not prevented Australia and for that matter Pakistan from winning. India too has come across such blockades and has come through in earlier years. These theories and tactics are all part of the game.

The one main problem with the Indian team is lack of confidence and vulnerability to pressure from both within and without. There have been suggestions earlier of carrying a psychiatrist with the team while on tour. Perhaps it would be a good idea.

But the main problem has not been in Edinburgh. It lies somewhere else, nearer home. While it is true that the team represents the hockey standard of the country as a whole it cannot at the same time be said to be truly representative of the ethos of the game. Agreed that hockey in India is not the same as it was some twenty years ago. In fact it could said that the game has lost much of its appeal after the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984 where India fielded one of the two best teams in the competition but finished among the top six.

From then onwards the progress has been somewhat haphazard with the lowest mark reached in the World Cup following the Asian Games of 1986. India finished 12th, one rung lower than Pakistan which ended up 11th. But both teams had an excuse. They had come almost straight from the Asian Games competition and were visibly tired. But Pakistan recovered to finish runners-up to Holland in Lahore in 1990 while India has continued to dodder notwithstanding the fifth place in 1994 and the Asian Games gold medal in Bangkok in 1998.

What is really unfortunate is that the performance of the team is not fully representative of the standard at home. While it can be argued conversely that one can only play as well as the talent available in the country allows it there seems to be something radically wrong when these theories are argued out. The standard within the country is not as bad as has been reflected by the team abroad. Yes it has come down but not so much as projected by the team wearing the national colours in Edinburgh. In fact one may be termed overoptimistic if it is suggested that the Indian junior team which won the Asian crown a couple of months ago could have done better at Edinburgh.

One thing must be understood. The low-key performance by Indians abroad, whatever the reasons, will certainly affect the game within the country. If Indian hockey has to improve than the team must win or perform well on the international scene. No one will accept excuses. Poor shooting, lack of confidence and psychological problems are all part of the preparation. India has been playing hockey on the international turf for far too long to resort to subterfuges.

At the same time something has to be done to revive Indian hockey. And it has to be done from the ground level. And it can be done only when it is accepted that there has been a general decline in the overall standard of the game at every level within the country. The downtrend has been seen at the schools and college level, the base as it were. Indians may have done well at the junior level of the international scene but it is easier to pick a team now than say some 20 years ago where there were more than four to five boys of equal standard fighting for the same spot. That is not the case now. The reason is that the game has lost in popularity and, at the economic level, has yielded to cricket in the main and some other game like tennis.

Some years ago the junior tournaments in the Nehru Hockey was a treat to watch, particularly from the boys belonging to schools from the Adivasi belt and State Sports Schools of Punjab and Lucknow. Teams from these areas still play well but clearly the boys are not in the same class as the ones earlier.

Until and unless there an effort to give hockey a more deserving status there is no way Indian can produce winning combinations at the senior level. It is true that the juniors are doing well but then they have been doing well earlier also. What has to be ensured is progressive maturing and improvement while moving from the junior to the senior stage. More stress has to be laid in the transition period.

It is too much to expect the IHF to involve itself at all stages. The Association of Indian Universities and the apex body controlling school sports in India have a responsibility too. One recalls the often superb performances from the boys of the Combined Universities team in the Nehru Hockey in the seventies and even later. Quite a few of India’s internationals came from these ranks. The Combined Universities teams these days are not the same. What has happened to these teams now?

It would be unfair to put the entire onus on Punjab. But this was one state which used to produced high quality teams at every level. It is not the same now. The Services and the Railways have also dropped in their output. And the game has all disappeared or is being completely overshadowed in what used to be major centres like Bangalore and Mumbai. The excitement and class of the Aga Khan Gold Cup hockey is all but gone and the Beighton Cup no longer enjoys the same status. As for the Nehru Tournament it has become a ritual, a formality of sorts these days. The organisers cannot be faulted for all the failures. Delhi has had no synthetic turf worth the name for the past five years and once the tournament was shifted from Shivaji Stadium to the National Stadium, it lost even that bit of gloss which it had managed to maintain.

All these negative aspects notwithstanding the game does survive. What is needed is a new approach, a little money perhaps but more importantly, in some cases, new faces to run old tournaments. Continuation of officials for decades altogether often leads to stagnation. Maybe things will change for the better. Edinburgh should be remembered but only as a pointer to what could happen if remedial steps are not taken.


They may gamble, but they mean business
Alan Ruddock

FOR two very private individuals, it was a very public investment. John Magnier and J.P. McManus, the Irish billionaires who last week doubled their stake in Manchester United to just under 7 per cent, prefer to make their money well away from public scrutiny and public interest. Their willingness to forgo their beloved anonymity and take a high-profile stake in one of the world’s highest- profile football clubs is a clear signal that this is no vanity investment. With Manchester United, they have opened themselves to examination, and that is not a decision either man will have taken lightly.

Despite amassing huge personal fortunes over the past 20 years - close associates estimate their worth at more than $ 1.5 billion each -remarkably little is known about how they became so wealthy. McManus, renowned in horse racing circles as a fearless gambler and owner of horses such as champion hurdler Istabraq, has moved seamlessly from successful gambler to billionaire tax exile. Now based in Switzerland, he is believed to have made his money trading aggressively on the foreign exchange markets, learning his trade at the feet of Joe Lewis, the former East End trader-turned-billionaire.

Magnier’s route to riches has been more visible, yet the scale of his wealth remains daunting. A shrewd, even brilliant, businessman, Magnier has managed to corner the world market in top- class stallions. From Coolmore stud in County Tipperary, the centre of his global operation, Magnier earns tens of millions each year from his stallions, which include Sadlers Wells, one of the greatest sires of the past 100 years.

While their personal wealth puts a bid for Manchester United well within their resources, it is their connections in the elite world of billionaires and multi-millionaires that some believe makes an outright bid for control plausible.

Their closest associates are Dermot Desmond, the Irish financier who is the largest single shareholder in Celtic football club, and Lewis, who has extensive interests in football through his control of Enic, which in turn controls Tottenham Hotspur and has a large shareholding in Glasgow Rangers. Between them, the four men now have significant stakes in four of the biggest brands in British football. Coincidence?

“Magnier, JP and Desmond have coveted United for a few years now,” says one associate, “and they are all very close to Lewis. But a bid would pitch them into the full glare of publicity. It’s a real dilemma for them: they would hate to think a tabloid might try to do to them what they did to the Newcastle directors.”

People who have dealt with Magnier and McManus in the past believe they doubled their stake for a number of reasons. The collapse of the United’s share price in the past 12 months created a value opportunity; it also allowed them to make a public statement of support for United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who is also a personal friend. It should prompt the City to reassess United and so boost the value of their holdings.

Friends say Magnier and McManus have also been swayed by Desmond’s belief that football still falls short of delivering its full profit potential. Desmond is convinced that football as a business will grow dramatically in coming years and that the creation of European super leagues is inevitable. A champion of the North Atlantic league concept, which would pitch teams from Scotland, Portugal, Holland, Belgium and Scandinavia against each other, Desmond is also determined to find a route for Celtic and Rangers into the English premiership.

Magnier has shown what a hard-headed businessman can achieve when he turns his attention to sports. Racing has been transformed from a hobby for the wealthy into a high-powered, and highly profitable, business. By identifying, and then cornering, the market in stallions, Magnier took control of a once disparate sport. Football is still in its infancy as a business.

Many of Europe’s largest clubs remain the playthings of wealthy benefactors; others lurch towards bankruptcy as they try to keep pace with escalating transfer fees and wages. The television revolution has only begun: digital television, pay-per-view, internet broadcasts and digital radio are still opportunities for the future. The sport still has plenty of room for investors with deep pockets and a vision of how to build a business.

— By arrangement with The Guardian


Hockey gave us identity, promote it

AS a national newspaper The Tribune is duty-bound to carry instant news about our national sport hockey. Whereas cricket results are prominently and instantly announced, hockey news is always delayed and never prominently displayed. With Indian hockey in dire straits, it is the duty of the Press to give us more information about this exciting sport. And anyway hockey is an international sport. The Indian cricket team are habitual losers, despite all the money and publicity. Hockey has given us an identity when we needed one and has held this country together. Let us not forget our past achievements but strive to get to the top of the world once again.


Received on e-mail

Popular game

Cricket is said to be a game of chance. Today cricket has taken the top slot among all games. Thanks to rural meets like Kila Raipur, other games are surviving. Cricket has become so popular that everyone is crazy about it. Even gamblers depend on it. I think the Government of India should encourage other games as well. Games should be played at the school level and genuine players must be given all types of facilities and encouragement.



Saurav’s suspension

The suspension of Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly was a disaster. Ganguly only showed the bat before the umpire’s decision. He did so because he knew the importance of staying between the wickets. Moreover, he didn’t argue with the umpire. On the other hand, match referee Chammie Smith just gave a warning to Michael Slater who argued with the umpire Venkatraghavan and exchanged hot words with Dravid. This was unfair. I fully agree with Ravi Shastri. To avoid such happenings the ICC must take appropriate steps.


Joginder Nagar

PCA academies

The recent decision of the Punjab Cricket Association to establish six cricket academies at Patiala, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Mohali and Chandigarh is worthy of appreciation. But it is also true that these cities are already well equipped with the basic infrastructure. It would have been better if these academies were allotted to those cities where basic facilities are lacking. The tougher the competition at the inter-district level the stronger will be the state team. Till now we’ve seen that players only from big cities make it to the state team. So it will be better if these academic are opened in remote areas.