Embracing the ‘New Normal’: Indian Sport in 2020

By Mustafa Ghouse, Chief Executive Officer- JSW Sports

As we enter what is being termed Lockdown 3.0 here in India, the effects of the global pandemic caused by COVID-19 are being felt across the board, and the $500 billion global sporting industry is no exception. The scale of impact on the sporting world is unprecedented with marquee events like Wimbledon, Formula1 races, the NBA season and even the Olympics being pushed back by a year. Closer home, we have seen the IPL and the I-League being suspended and the domestic calendar ahead of an important Olympic qualifying period put on hold indefinitely. Athletes, who are used to being out in gyms and on the training fields, find themselves in unfamiliar territory: forced to be indoors with little they can do. All of this can have a debilitating impact on the athletes and others throughout the ecosystem and will need to be dealt with carefully. We are only a third of the way through, but I can say with some confidence that the year 2020 will be a landmark year for the sporting industry, one way or the either.

While the initial few weeks were spent coming to terms with this unique situation, ensuring regulations are followed, staying indoors and avoiding any travel, it is now time for the industry to plan, strategize and innovate to adapt to the realities of a post-COVID world. Just as work-from-home, zoom calls, remote meetings and e-seminars become part of daily life, we must come together to collectively rebuild and find ways to bring back sport (also an important part of life for many), to the extent possible, amidst an uncertain future.

Health and safety must be prioritized, but a phased return to sport is something all stakeholders are keenly working towards. We are seeing this start to happen in pockets around the world with games being played in empty stadiums, fan engagement and digital content taking centre-stage and federations starting to chalk out event calendars. Bringing back the eyeballs would be the easiest piece of the puzzle: most people cannot wait for live sport to be back!

The most common cliché in modern sport is its ability to unite and if there was ever a need to bring people together, it is now. Sport also teaches us to come back stronger after a setback and that is exactly what we need to do now. Yes, the industry will see an immediate economic fallout from COVID-19 with broadcasters, rights holders, leagues and most of all the human resources that keep the wheels in motion being affected. But this situation also brings opportunities: to innovate, to bring newer fan experiences, to reach out to more diverse groups, to prioritize athletes’ physical and mental health and take sport forward. The steps being taken by a range of organisations by hosting webinars, coaching workshops and support services is a commendable case-in-point.

Within the JSW Sports family, we are using this time to explore new strategic avenues in line with global trends to position ourselves better. At Bengaluru FC and Delhi Capitals, our teams are in close contact with players to monitor their progress and ensure they are managing well. At the Inspire Institute of Sport, athletes are continuing to train with restrictions and we have organised multiple sessions on nutrition, psychology, training and physiotherapy and rehabilitation for our senior athletes stuck at home or in national camps with limited opportunities to train. We are also leveraging our international partners to focus on staff development and making our expertise available for the broader sporting audience in India through workshops with the Sports Authority of India and partner national federations.

Our vision at JSW Sports has always been to help create a wave of professionalism in Indian sport. They say adversity is the best teacher, and I am positive that our experiences and learnings through this period of hardship will strengthen our resolve to use sport to unite us and help Indian sport reach greater heights.

I urge you all to stay safe, stay positive and join us in this endeavour.