By Rohit Mundayur
New Delhi, May 31 (IANS) A top level sportsperson’s journey can be divided into two distinct segments – before retirement and after it. Former American basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had said in a column for The Guardian that “professional athletes are shooting stars: they burn bright as they flame across the sky, then suddenly fade into quiet darkness”.
Athletes often have to restart their lives once they reach a stage where their bodies don’t allow them to do possibly the only thing they have ever thought of doing. For Mustafa Ghouse, though, a career as a tennis player was only the beginning.
Until 2008, Ghouse was better known for winning bronze in the tennis men’s doubles event with partner Vishal Uppal at the 2002 Asian Games, when Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes took the gold.
Fast forward a decade and, as CEO of JSW Sport, which owns three professional teams — Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League, Haryana Steelers in Pro Kabaddi and Delhi Capitals in the Indian Premier League, Ghouse is currently one of the most prominent names in the business of sports.
“It circles back to some time in 2012 when (JSW) Group and Jindal family were keen to start looking at sports – how they could promote sport and contribute to it,” Ghouse told IANS. Through Bhupathi, Ghouse met Parth Jindal, the managing director of JSW cements who would eventually become the director of JSW Sports. “I joined JSW around November 2012,” said Ghouse.
The 38-year-old has admitted in the past about how, like any other athlete, his sport was pretty much his life during his playing days. Now it serves as a blueprint for him to fall back on as he leads JSW.
“We started off with just a very CSR-driven project where we wanted to give back to Olympic sports. That was an area which was easy to relate to for me having grown up playing sports in India and experiencing the same challenges that other athletes face right now. It is certainly beneficial to have gone through the same grind,” said Ghouse.
JSW’s imprint on Indian sports in the past decade is quite distinguishable. Apart from winning six trophies in six years of its existence, Bengaluru FC has developed a dedicated fan following and become a part of the city’s culture. Haryana Steelers reached the playoffs in its very first season of Pro Kabaddi. Among individual athletes in JSW’s stable are Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik and Asian Games gold medallist Neeraj Chopra, among others.
“We started off with the Olympic programme, so boxing, wrestling, swimming and judo were among the first sports that we were looking at. Because they don’t get the required support,” said Ghouse.
Jindal has in the past spoken about fears in 2016 of Bengaluru FC being affected by a downturn in the steel industry. It didn’t, but this was one of the factors that led the company into entering the moneybag that is the IPL.
In March 2018, the GMR group that owned the Delhi Daredevils sold 50 per cent stake of the franchise to JSW Sports for Rs 550 crore. A notoriously underperforming team, the franchise changed its name to the Delhi Capitals before the start of the 2019 IPL season. They ended the season in the third place — their best finish in a decade.
“The scales were much higher than anything we were involved in up until now,” said Ghouse about the 2019 IPL season. “There were challenges of doing work and getting stuff done in Delhi. That was something new for us but luckily we had a joint venture partner in GMR Group and they have a lot of ground level experience of getting things done in the city.”
“There was a lot of baggage in terms of the poor performances over the last few seasons. We were really clear that we wanted to do well. We believed in the coaching staff — getting (Sourav) Ganguly into the scheme of things was something that we believe made a big difference. There were a lot of trips to Delhi but all in all I think the backroom team really coped up well,” he added.
The Mumbai based former tennis player says that with the Tokyo Olympics around the corner, JSW are only looking to strengthen the teams and athletes that are in its ambit instead of expand even further for now.
“We do get a lot of proposals but as of now we have invested in the top three leagues in the country. We have a lot of work, we still want to do with our Olympic program before we think of adding more sports. The institute is really consolidating right now and we are starting to see results that we would like to see. So we are not actively looking for anything at the moment. We are looking to really consolidate what we have for now,” he said.
(Rohit Mundayur can be contacted at [email protected])