Over nearly a decade of being a part of this country’s sports industry, I’ve organized and attended more conferences than I can remember. While some have been incredibly memorable and others have been downright miserable, I can confidently say that sports conferences in India have significantly improved over the years.
I don’t mean ‘improved’ in terms of the star rating of the host hotel, the profile of the speakers, or taste of the free lunches served as some of the earlier sports conferences I attended back in 2009 were hosted in India’s best hotels, buzzing with corporate honchos & sports legends, and overflowing with exquisite butter chicken and made-to-order pasta. No, what I mean by ‘improved’ is that the substance of the conversation has evolved to a far more professional level and the general tone of the conferences organized lately ooze with enthusiasm and possibility versus negativity and passing the buck which was the predominant vibe in the past.
One event which has been consistently professional and positive is ‘The Football Movement’ conference organized by India On Track in partnership with the Premier League and UK Department of International Trade. I first attended this conference back in 2016 and although the turnout was quite low, I remember feeling that India On Track did a great job curating the panel sessions and guiding the conversation to ultimately lead to meaningful information, insights and outcomes. Also, it was the first time that I experienced the now infamous Football Movement Conference afternoon drinks which completely transformed the dynamic of the networking sessions.
The following year, the conference shifted from Sofitel BKC to St. Regis in Lower Parel and, while the venue may have shifted south, the overall speaker & attendee experience skyrocketed north. The Football Movement quickly went from a one day event where a handful of football industry friends got together over stimulating panel sessions and beers, to a 2 day football extravaganza attended by the who’s who in Indian football in addition to high profile personalities such as Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore and all-time EPL leading goal scorer Alan Shearer. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at The Football Movement conference 2.0 and many of the seeds which were planted over refreshing afternoon cocktails on the 9th floor St. Regis terrace lawn, have now sprouted into extraordinary partnerships and programs.
One of those seeds planted was the idea of me working with India On Track in the area of Sports Education – a seed which has already blossomed into a tall bush and will soon be a magnificent life nurturing tree (more to be shared on this in a future post). This similar seed created the opportunity for me to be one of the organizers of The Football Movement 3.0 versus just an attendee. I spent about a month with the India On Track team supporting them with designing the panel sessions, securing speakers and ensuring the room was filled with influencers from sport and industry.
The event took place in February at the Taj Santa Cruz Hotel. Overall, it was a great success in terms of attendance, profile of speakers and substance & tone of the two day conference. We were fortunate to have former Manchester United Captain Nemanja Vidic and Bollywood superstar and Premier League Ambassador Ranveer Singh participate in the event which certainly left a positive and memorable impression with all involved. On a personal note, I thoroughly enjoyed working behind the scenes with the highly professional India On Track staff while, at the same time, serving as host to many of my industry friends in attendance. Also, my ‘I will never forget this’ moment was when I was on the main stage interviewing former Swansea City FC Manager Gary Monk about what he learned while being a 34 year old Manager of the Premier League club he captained for a number of years.
The final cocktail networking event was a blast made even more enjoyable as Nemanja, Gary and Ranveer did their rounds and took an endless number of group photos and selfies with our conference speakers, guests and, yes, organizers as well. But beyond the glitz and glamour created by the Premier League and Bollywood celebrities, I must say that the conference itself was full of healthy conversation about ways in which Indian football stakeholders can collaborate to support the professional evolution of the industry while, at the same time, create avenues for foreign entities to come in and be a part of the growth story.
I must say that this experience in 2018 was a long way away from the dark days of 2009 when we used to sit around overpriced hotels, eating plates of butter chicken and blaming anyone who happened to not be within earshot about their role in the Indian sports industry’s inability to reach its full potential.