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We want to give 250 million children in India the chance to play sports: Leander Paes

The tennis icon spoke to My Kolkata at ITC Royal Bengal about his new project with Shrachi Sports Ventures

Debrup Chaudhuri | Published 15.03.24, 05:40 PM
Leander Paes spoke about his new venture with the Shrachi Group, playing golf, the remarkable form of Rohan Bopanna, and more

Leander Paes spoke about his new venture with the Shrachi Group, playing golf, the remarkable form of Rohan Bopanna, and more

All photos by Amit Pramanik

“Ninety-nine per cent of children in India don’t get to play sports because of the lack of facilities, kits and other shortages. We want to change that,” said Leander Paes, as he announced a partnership with Shrachi Sports Ventures at ITC Royal Bengal on March 7. “With the partnership with Shrachi, we want to give 250 million children in India the chance to play sports,” declared Paes, who was present alongside Rahul Todi, managing director, Shrachi Group, as part of the Trailblazer 2.0 sports conclave.

My Kolkata caught up with Paes and Todi on the sidelines of the conclave to learn more about their collaboration, which promises to bring in a new wave of sporting participation in India. Edited excerpts from the conversation follow.

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‘We want to use sports as a vehicle to create a healthy environment and ecosystem for our country’

Paes and Rahul Todi at ITC Royal Bengal on March 7

Paes and Rahul Todi at ITC Royal Bengal on March 7

My Kolkata: You mentioned 250 million children will be able to take up sports in India. How are you going to achieve that target? What are the plans like?

Leander Paes (LP): Firstly, I’m a big believer in Shrachi and the Todi family. They’re doing great work and I’m looking forward to our partnership to help the grassroots. Urbana is a great example of what Shrachi is trying to achieve with the kind of sports facilities they have put in there. If you look at Singapore and China, every housing complex has sports facilities. That’s exactly how we’re going to start off with Shrachi Sports. My company, Flying Man Ventures, will work with Shrachi’s designers to develop these projects. I’ll be looking at the sporting designs. The vision behind this is to go to all the rural areas of the country as well as all the metropolitan cities of the country and give children an opportunity to play sports. We want to use sports as a vehicle to create a healthy environment and ecosystem for our country.

Rahul Todi (RT): To add to that, all our projects going forward will have sports as a theme. Some infrastructure will be created that can be used not only by residents, but by the public at large. Any venture has to be sustainable both from a project perspective and sustainable for us to live our lives as well. We’ll be launching other categories, too. One thing we’re strongly working on, where Leander’s expertise and designing will come in, is athleisure. It will be fast fashion, where we’ll be using our tie-ups with East Bengal to promote the brand. Maybe Leander can add more to this.

LP: When you think about sports, it’s not just about playing, but also apparel. When you go to the rural areas, those children don’t get proper shoes, socks and other basic equipment that’s needed for sports. That’s what we’re trying to do. One other vertical of our business is to go with athleisure besides bringing in professional clothing for athletes. We also want to reach the masses with some really cool active wear attire.

What is the first step to make this venture successful? Have you identified areas where you are going to start projects? Have any projects got underway?

RT: We’re working on the Proofs of Concept (POC) already. You’ll probably see the first POC in April and you’ll get to know what we’ll bring to the market. Besides that, education, training, coaching and development are also focus areas. We’ll be taking a strategic stake in Aditya School of Sports (in Barasat), which is an existing K-12 school. The idea is to develop the sports curriculum, which is based on the National Education Policy (NEP). We’ll make that a centre of excellence for multi-sports. We’ll be looking to develop the grassroots and feeding centres for these places of excellence. We’re both Kolkata boys, so the first venture had to be closest to home, before we scale it upwards and outwards. We want to start here and then take it further to other States, and even internationally. One step at a time.

LP: The work has to start at home. If you look at the Shrachi Group and the amount of work they’ve done in West Bengal in real estate, it’s really impressive. Now Shrachi Sports Ventures will be coming to enhance Shrachi real estate so that the whole vision is to create the ecosystem using sports to bring people together.

‘After winning 18 Grand Slams, I’m now trying to conquer 18 holes’

Paes and Todi are both keen on transforming the future of sports in India, starting with projects in Kolkata and West Bengal

Paes and Todi are both keen on transforming the future of sports in India, starting with projects in Kolkata and West Bengal

Talk to us about Leander Paes the golfer. How competitive does he get?

LP: Golf is a great transition for me after tennis. After winning 18 Grand Slams, I’m now trying to conquer 18 holes. The creativity of golf is what has caught my imagination— every hole is different, the grass at every course is different, the greens can play differently in the evenings to what they do in the mornings. It’s an individual sport, so just like tennis, I’m at peace with myself. When I’m on the golf course, I also get time and space for myself to create my designs, to think of new ventures and new visions. To get creative, so to speak. When you’re in a metropolitan city like Kolkata or Mumbai or New York or Paris, you’re always running. The golf course is where I can feel the same peace I felt when I was on a tennis court, even with 20,000 people cheering. I can be in my zone and shut out the noise.

Lastly, after Rohan Bopanna’s success at the Australian Open and the steady performances from the likes of Sumit Nagal, where do you see Indian tennis over the next five to 10 years?

LP: I’ve always said — enjoy the moment. Some people get lost in nostalgia and some people get lost in the future. But we should really celebrate Rohan now, we should celebrate Sumit now. While I was playing, all of you celebrated me. Now it's our job to collectively celebrate the others. You have to enjoy that journey because that’s where perfection comes in. It’s not just about doing something, it’s about doing it really well — the best that you can.

Last updated on 15.03.24, 05:40 PM
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