India has a population of 1.2 billion people and football is the country's #2 sport so one would safely assume that the Indian football fraternity is quite extensive. This is surprisingly and unfortunately not the case. The fraternity is quite small and everyone knows everyone. Beyond that, you probably don't need much more than both hands and both feet to count the number of people within the fraternity who are passionate, genuine and ready to take big risks to support the industry's growth. I guess the only positive to these small numbers is that someone like me, who just recently moved to the country, can easily meet and form lasting relationships with other members of this fraternity.
I wanted to use this blog to highlight 3 people who fit into the last category I described. These are individuals who have become close friends over the past few months and have truly inspired me with their vision, passion and nerves of steel. These are individuals who have taken actions to live the famous line, "Be the change you want to see in the world." They don't just sit on the sidelines complaining about India's lack of quality sports programming, they put their money, time and energy where their mouths are and actually get into action to make a difference to country's amateur sporting culture.
#1 - Ajay Gupta - Founder, Sport365 http://www.sport365india.com/home.action
Ajay grew up in Chandigarh and then moved to the US to study at the University of Michigan. He then spent the next number of years working for many high profile corporates providing him with top project management experience. After many years living in exotic places around the world, he moved back to India and realized that, unlike the US, the options for amateur sports programming were almost non-existent. Being avid sports players themselves, he and his wife Aparna chose to set up their own company and create sports leagues for adults in and around Delhi with the intention to grow across the country. In just a few months, they have already started leagues for Football, Badminton, Basketball, Bowling, Golf and Volleyball. I've been a frequent participant of their weekly football matches at Thyagaraj Stadium and have really enjoyed the opportunity to play in a nice stadium each week and meet many other football players from around the city. Ajay is a great guy and someone who has the tools necessary to pioneer the amateur sport league industry in the country.
#2 - Siddharth Pandey - Founder, Leh Leh Sports https://www.facebook.com/LEHLEHSports
Siddharth also grew up in Delhi and then moved to Australia to work in a corporate job for a few years. Similar to Ajay, he returned to Delhi and was shocked by the lack of sports options in the city. Rather than focus on creating sports leagues, his mission was to lease indoor spaces to create multi-sport facilities. While he waits for space to free up, he has started to build the Leh Leh Sports brand and operations expertise through executing charity sports programs and traditional Indian sports tournaments for corporate offices. Siddharth has the right mix of passion, perseverance and knowledge to create a successful model for indoor sports facilities and I'm looking forward being one of his first customers.
#3 - Adhip Bhandary - Founder, Bangalore Youth Football League http://www.byfl.in
Adhip grew up an avid footballer in Mumbai. He received his Masters degree at the AISTS Olympics program in Lausanne, Switzerland and then returned to India. Rather than jumping back into the corporate world, he decided to put his sports playing and academic experience into action and start his own football academy called Bangalore Youth Football League. The academy caters to boys and girls of all ages and socioeconomic classes. He employees a number of licensed coaches and brings in many of the "best practices" from around the world into his programs. It's no surprise that Adhip has quickly positioned himself as one of the key influencers in the Bangalore youth football scene and I'm confident that he will be a key player in the transformation of Bangalore becoming a major football market in India.
|Me with BYFL Founder Adhip Bhandary|
These individuals may be running different types of sports programs however what they have in common is their commitment to make a difference to the sporting landscape found in India on their own and not within the comforts of a well-financed corporate blanket. These guys are all taking on their respective projects with no clear sign that return on investment is around the corner and that both scares and inspires me at the same time. I wish them all the best of luck moving forward...