May 2023 | 2381 words | 9-minute read
On August 15, 2021 — when India kicked off a year of celebrations marking 75 years of independence — a cadet of the Tata Archery Academy (TAA) took aim at the Youth World Championships. The arrow hit the target, launching a series of sporting milestones in the landmark year.
Archer Komalika Bari became the Under-21 Recurve World Champion.
In January 2022, the world’s most successful cricket league became the Tata Indian Premier League. It is now also the second richest league in the world — ahead of the EPL (English Premier League) and the NBA (National Basketball Association) and second only to the NFL (National Football League).
And in August 2022 many of India’s 12 wrestling medals at the Commonwealth Games (CWG) were swept up by wrestlers supported by Tata Motors, while Sourav Ghosal, senior sports officer, Tata Capital, brought home the country’s first ever medal in squash at the CWG.
They not only brought pride to the nation in a way that only sports can but were also a fitting nod to the Tata commitment to the advancement of sports in India in this landmark year.
Way back when
The Tata group’s association with sports has been a long and fruitful one dating back to our Founder Jamsetji Tata. It was his belief in sports as a force for good that seeded the Tata culture of supporting a wide range of sports and the athletes who excelled in them.
Jamsetji, however, was no ordinary sports fan. Like all his other endeavours, he applied a long-term vision even to this. He began planning sports infrastructure as early as the 1880s, starting with the Parsi Gymkhana in Mumbai. He played a key role in the establishment and operation — as its first chairman — of the gymkhana, which supports a range of sports like cricket, football, lawn tennis, volleyball, badminton, billiards and table tennis even today.
His belief in the role of sports in the development of community, and, in turn, the nation, was also laid out in his vision for the city of Jamshedpur. “Reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks,” he had written to his son Sir Dorabji Tata in 1902, years before the land for the city was found.
Passing the baton
Jamsetji’s passion for sports passed on to Sir Dorabji. As a student at Cambridge, he distinguished himself at cricket, tennis, horse riding and rowing. He went on to captain the cricket 11 at Parsee Gymkhana. He also became a patron of the Indian Gymkhana in England; established in 1916, it was the UK's first multi-ethnic cricket club.
But just like his father, Sir Dorabji saw the larger potential in the pursuit of sports — its power to forge a national identity and lift the national spirit.
He single-handedly opened India’s path to the Olympics by funding the first Indian contingent to Antwerp in 1920 and the second to Paris in 1924. The Indian Olympic Association was established in 1927 with financial support from Sir Dorabji, who also became the first president of the IOA. It led India to the Amsterdam in 1928, where India won the first Olympic gold in hockey, followed by golds in 1932 and 1936.
Tata Sports Club
“It was at this delicately poised period in the nation’s growth that the Tata group happened to make another far-reaching commitment to sports by establishing the Tata Sports Club (TSC) in 1937,” notes To Strive and To Soar.
The book documenting ‘Tata Group in Sports’, adds, “At the time, the reigning teams of the day like Bombay Customs, Railways and Port Trust were dominated by Europeans, and games like hockey and cricket were invariably played and followed by the powerful and ruling elite of the colonial era… By providing a platform for the building and nurturing of talent in a wide array of games, the Tata Sports Club was one of the newly formed institutions of that era, which helped change the existing status quo in favour of a more inclusive ethos and one that was certainly more representative of an emerging Indian reality.”
The importance it had for the Tata group is evident from the fact that for a period of time it occupied the entire ground floor of Bombay House, the Tata headquarters. Helmed by JRD Tata — who had a keen personal interest in weightlifting, boxing, golf and skiing — till 1980, the TSC built teams in athletics, football, hockey, cricket, football, tennis, badminton, boxing, weightlifting, carrom and bridge. The teams drew the finest talent in the country, participated in leading tournaments and set records that remained unbroken for years.
The honours won by the TSC had a ripple effect across the group. As inter-company competitions intensified, Tata companies began to build better teams, either by recruiting employees based on their sports potential or by employing sportspersons. As a result, the Tata group soon became a haven to many promising sportspersons.
Did you know, for instance, that at least five players of the Indian men’s hockey teams that brought home Olympics medals from 1948 to 1980 were from the Tata Sports Club? Or that Tata employees have represented India at the Olympics in everything from hockey, football, athletics and archery to basketball, boxing, cycling and even judo?
Over the decades, the Tata group has identified sports talent and extended support when they needed it the most — in their days of obscurity. Athlete Lavy Pinto set several national records, won golds at the first Asian Games in 1951 and captained the Indian athletics team to the Helsinki Olympics in 1952; he had joined the Tatas right after completing his matriculation. Thadathuvila Chandrapillai Yohannan cleared 8.07 metres at the 1974 Asian Games setting a new Asian record in long jump as well as a national record that stood for 18 years; he was chosen from a youth meet and trained under the tutelage of a Tata Motors coach. It was only in 1982 that Charles Borromeo sprinted 800m in 1 minute 46.81 seconds, setting an Asian Games record; he had been with Tata Steel since 1978. Bachendri Pal became the first Indian woman to conquer Mount Everest in 1984; she did so with the support of Tata Steel, which she joined in 1983.
In other cases, Tata companies have stood steadfastly behind their sportspersons, providing the safety net they needed to chase their dreams. Billiards champion Michael Ferriera worked with Voltas and Tata Oil Mills. Tata Oil Mills also employed billiards champion Geet Sethi. Beginning in the early 1960s with Nari Contractor (Tata Motors), through the ’80s and ’90s with Ravi Shastri (Tata Steel) and Dilip Vengsarkar (Tata Power), Sourav Ganguly (Tata Steel) and MS Dhoni (Indian Airlines), Tata companies have also supported generations of Indian cricket stars.
Collectively, they have not only represented India but also won many times over at the Commonwealth Games, the Asian Games, various world championships and even the cricket World Cups.
The building blocks
In line with the Founder’s vision, the Tatas parallelly laid the building blocks for the holistic development of sports in India.
They built infrastructure where there was none. Tata Sons was among those who stepped up to help the Cricket Club of India cover the construction costs of Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, which opened in 1937. In 1939, Tata Steel built its own cricket ground, the Keenan stadium in Jamshedpur. In the 1970s, when the Bombay Cricket Association proposed to build a stadium of its own, the Tatas announced a contribution that was honoured with the north side of the revered Wankhede Stadium being christened the Tata End. And in 1991, the JRD Tata Sports Complex, with facilities for 18 sports, was gifted to the city of Jamshedpur.
And they created and nurtured institutions that chased excellence. It was during Naval Tata’s tenure as president of the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) that post-Independence India won three successive hockey golds at the Olympics in 1948, 1952 and 1956.
Starting in the 1980s, the group’s foray into sports had matured enough to begin setting up elite sports institutions of its own like the Tata Steel Adventure Foundation, Tata Football Academy, the Tata Archery Academy, the Centre of Excellence for Football, the Naval Tata Hockey Academy, the Odisha Naval Tata Hockey High Performance Centre, and the TSAF Climbing Academy.
Into the big league
With the turn of the millennium, and under the chairmanship of Ratan N Tata, the Tata group’s relationship with sports expanded into the international leagues. In 2001, the group sponsored the Tata Open Tennis Championships, a first in Tata’s sporting history. It opened the path for the group to dream bigger and build a global legacy.
Under the current chairmanship of N Chandrasekaran, the group continues to play a key role in powering India’s sports aspirations. The chairman, who is an avid marathon runner, has made the sport synonymous with brand Tata around the world — from Asia’s largest marathon to the world’s largest marathon and from the world's highest ultra marathon to the world's largest cross-country run.
“Events like the marathon,” he believes, “promote values like grit, tenacity, excellence, perseverance, belief, commitment, and passion that have been a key part of the Tata group's ethos since its inception.”
Group companies now also support institutions like the Wrestling Federation of India in their pursuit of the country’s wrestling revolution. They embrace Tata synergies to form teams like Formula E’s Jaguar TCS Racing. They support Indian sports properties like the Pro Kabaddi League and international ones like the Rugby World Cup, the Wimbledon and Invictus Games. And they lend their brand to the biggest of tournaments like the Tata Indian Premier League.
India@75: Highlights of the Tata sports journey
- The Naval Tata Hockey Academy in Jamshedpur and the Odisha Naval Tata Hockey High Performance Centre in Bhubaneshwar, established by the Tata Trusts and Tata Steel, provide world-class, high-performance residential hockey training facilities.
- The Hockey Ace Foundation, conceptualised by Tata Trusts and Tata Steel to foster inclusive development of the sport, has partnered with Bovelander Hockey Academy from Netherlands for expertise Regional development centres and grassroots training centres provide competitive training to both boys and girls, professionalising hockey at the grassroots
- Regional development centres and grassroots training centres provide competitive training to both boys and girls, professionalising hockey at the grassroots
- Tata Football Academy (TFA), established by Tata Steel in Jamshedpur in 1986, is India’s first residential football academy
- Tata Steel’s created and debuted its own football club, the Jamshedpur FC, in 2017
- The state-of-the art Centre of Excellence for Football in Mizoram, established by the Tata Trusts in 2018, is expanding India’s future talent pool of football players
- A TFA and Tata Trusts partnership with Atletico de Madrid is encouraging football at the grassroots
- Tata Sons, along with TCS, is the title sponsor of the Tata Mumbai Marathon — Asia’s largest marathon
- The Tatas support the Tata Ultra Marathon, India's first International Association of Ultrarunners-certified ultramarathon
- TCS has put India on the global marathon map by lending its name and technology to marquee marathons and running events like TCS New York City Marathon, TCS Lidingoloppet, TCS London Marathon, TCS Toronto Waterfront Marathon, TCS Amsterdam Marathon, TCS Clark Animo, to name a few.
- Tata Steel supports the Tata Steel Kolkata 25k, Tata Steel Bhubaneswar Half Marathon and run-a-thons in Jamshedpur, Noamundi and Angul
- TCPL’s Himalayan has partnered with the world’s highest ultra marathon, the ‘Himalayan Khardungla Challenge 2022
- Tata Motors CV is fostering homegrown sports through a central sponsorship association with Pro Kabaddi League
- Tata Motors sponsors the Tata Open Maharashtra
- The Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF), set up in 1984 and led by legendary mountaineer Bachendri Pal, creates record-setting mountaineers like Premlata Agarwal, the oldest Indian woman to scale the world's tallest peak; and Arunima Sinha, the first Indian amputee to climb Mt Everest
- TSAF Climbing Academy, a residential facility set up by Tata Steel in 2020, is training athletes in sport climbing for the Olympics, worlds cups and national competitions
- Tata Steel Chess Centre, set up in Jamshedpur in 1989, aims to build interest for chess in India
- Tata Steel Chess India, started in 2018, witnesses participation of the world’s top grandmasters
- In 2022, Tata Steel Chess India introduced a women’s edition, with equal prize money
- Tata group is the title sponsor of the Indian Premier League
- Tata Motors has been a sponsor of the IPL since 2018
- TCS became the Technology Partner of Rajasthan Royals in 2009 — the first time that an IPL team had inducted a technology partner into the organisation to stay on the championship track
- The Tata Trusts, with Pullela Gopichand as technical partner, has joined hands with Mizoram state authorities to set up the Mizoram Badminton Initiative, a three-tiered badminton development programme
- Tata Sons is the principal sponsor of Gopichand’s Badminton Gurukul
- Tata Motors has been the principal sponsor of Indian wrestling since 2018, enabling the development of an ecosystem in association with the Wrestling Federation of India. The support helped catapult Indian wrestlers to 2 medals at the Tokyo Olympics, Commonwealth Games wins and other world championships.
- The Golf Training Centre, established by Tata Steel in 2004-05, provides world-class infrastructure to budding golfers
- Tata Steel sponsors the Professional Golf Tour of India
- TCS UK and Europe has partnered with the Dutch Open since 2021, bringing their experience of enriching sports events through technology
- Tata Archery Academy, set up by Tata Steel in 1996, is the first-of-its-kind residential centre of excellence to train archers in India
- It has produced recurve world champions, including the reigning Under-21 World Champion Komalika Bari, and Recurve World No 1 Deepika Kumari (an ex-TAA cadet)