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Sports & Business



I will write about my own experience of organizing and running a sports company (albeit a non profit one) since the last more than 10 years. The sport is marathon running and I have been a marathon runner since 2005, the second year of the then SCMM Mumbai Marathon.

I have been a founder member of Mumbai Road Runners (MRR) a popular FB group and subsequently from 2016 onwards a Director of Mumbai Road Runners Foundation (a section 8 no profit company).


Marathon as a sport originated when Pheidippides ran the distance of approximately 40 kms from Marathon to Athens to declare news of the victory in the battle of Marathon. The first ever Indian to have participated in an Olympic marathon was Phadeppa Chaugule who ran the 1920 Amsterdam marathon (source Wikipedia)


Marathon of course does not have any separate federation of its own, but is governed by the Athletics body viz. Athletics Federation of India (AFI). Adille Sumariwala is the present President of AFI. It has a website at https://indianathletics.in/


Marathon events were organized in India by the national body for their selection to the various international events like Asian Games, Commonwealth Games and Olympics. Pune International Marathon is the oldest marathon event in India, but it is badly organized. But the real impetus to the spurt in popularity in marathon running came with the advent of the Mumbai Marathon organized by Procam International from 2004 onwards.

It took only a few years for the popularity to surge tremendously with plethora of sports products like running shoes, socks, compression socks, energy drinks, GPS watches, coaches et al.


The business side of marathon running picked up in earnest few years down the line after the Mumbai Marathon was inaugurated with sports companies like Puma, Reebok, Adidas, Nike, and later on Skechers, Asics and now Saucony and Brooks coming in large numbers.

In energy drinks market, Gatorade was there when I first started running, but later on Enerzal came and Fast&Up and recently Oziva energy drinks. FUP has expanded itself aggressively supplying to almost all the IPL and ISL teams and also the recent Olympic trials held at Patiala.

In the GPS watches or wearable technology section we have Garmin which is the largest supplier in India. TomTom was there briefly but their business plans changed and they exited the market. Xiaomi watch i.e. Amazfit Bip Pro is attracting lots of interest because of its price point which is very low and it gives tremendous value for money.

Then there are other products like tee shirts, shorts, socks, wrist band, bottles, all of which put together is worth billions of dollars in the Indian market. The number of events has grown up from 1 in 2004 to more than 1700 in 2019 before the Covid pandemic broke out.


Organisation of a marathon is a thankless job as I have done it about half a dozen times. There is the whole issue of permission from the BMC, police etc. which is hard to get. Plus there are other varied costs like providing water and energy drinks to the runners enroute, bananas, making arrangement for stage, inviting celebrities, tee shirt, logistics, transport etc. which strains the resources of any marathon organizer. That is why big ticket marathon events worldwide like Boston, New York, London, Chicago have title sponsors to take care of the cost. Mumbai Marathon had Standard Chartered Bank for a long time and from the last 3 years, the Tatas have picked up the bill.


The AFI has no say in any private marathon events in the country except the marquee ones like Mumbai Marathon which they ask their athletes to run in order to qualify for international events like the Olympics etc. But AFI is the regulatory body for track and field athletics, marathon running and race walking in the country.

AFI is a staggering organization with its state units and district units. There are coaching exams for its runners at two levels viz. Pre Level 1 coaches and Level 1 coaches. But the athletes can also do coaching program from SAI which is more extensive. The AFI constitution details can be found here i.e. https://indianathletics.in/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/AFI-CONSTITUTION-SEP-2020.pdf

They do have an Arbitration Commission in their organization which has detailed rules and procedures. Then they also have a Complaint Redressal Committee, Committee against Sexual harassment etc. They also have a Disciplinary Committee, Women Committee, and Ethics Commission among others.


During all these years, I have seen cheating happening in a myriad of ways. In early days, when the chip system was there, some runners ask their good runner friends to run a part of the race and hand the chip over near the finish line. Sometimes runners take a small car ride of about 3 to 4 kms and then restart the race. In one case recently, the coach carried multiple bibs in his pocket in order for his wards to qualify for big international events like Comrades. I have never come across doping among elite runners so far.


AFI acts as a go between the national sports body and national level athletes and the international body i.e. IAAF and the Olympics bodies and those of Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. AFI selects the Indian team for these events and is responsible for their travel & stay arrangements, coaches, etc. In absence of a strong AFI the athletes do tend to suffer as rival bodies emerge like it has happened in some sports and in certain other sports, the election process is not carried out duly as per the recommendations of the Ministry of Sports.


So I can say from my vantage point that sports is a multi million rupees business in Indis what with the proliferation of so many leagues in various sports.

References: Wikipedia, AFI website

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