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Culture and Society: Sports


Cricket commands the greatest following among all the sports in India. Other sports played in the country are hockey, soccer (known as football in India), tennis, table tennis, badminton, basketball, volleyball, chess, golf, archery, weight-lifting, swimming, skating, kabaddi, kho-kho, and some forms of traditional martial arts like the Kalari Payattu, one of the oldest in the world. Cricket has almost become a religion in India, with the whole country coming to a stand still whenever an important match takes place. One can see youngsters, beginning at around the age of six or seven, playing cricket just about anywhere.

Professionally, sports are divided into three categories on the basis of medal prospects: Priority, General, and Others. However, sports clubs are not as advanced in terms of facilities and professionalism. Even some of the top football clubs do not have their own grounds or gymnasiums for practice. Sport as a profession is still not a very lucrative career as many athletes still depend on other jobs to make a living. Only cricketers command the highest remuneration as well as compensation for brand endorsements. Despite being the national game, field hockey is not as popular as cricket and football. Football has a greater fan following in some states in the North East and the Southwest states like Kerala and Goa.

Individual Sport Participation

Health and fitness is catching on in India as a way of life. Traditional fitness regimes like yoga are competing with more modern and foreign fitness methods like aerobics, dance aerobics, Tai Chi, and weight and strength training. Gymnasiums are cropping up in every city and town to cater to the increasing demand for a healthy lifestyle. One can now see many people walking or jogging in parks or on the roads early in the morning or later in the evening. Currently, residential complexes with their own swimming pools, jogging tracks, parks, and playgrounds are in high demand among the young urbanites. With higher incomes and busier schedules, people are not hesitating to shell out money for fitness equipment to have their own gymnasium at home. There is also a rising demand for personal trainers. Some companies are also offering "distress rooms" and gymnasiums for their over-stressed executives to take their mind off work.

There is still a large section of the population that doesn’t participate in sports, apart from the occasional game of "gully cricket" (played on the streets). Lack of facilities, coupled with the Indian culture that doesn’t stress much importance on the body contributes to this.

Cricket is an all-time favorite with all ages of the population, followed by football, volleyball, badminton, and tennis. Rugby is becoming more popular among the youth. Children are enrolling in sports clubs from a young age where they are trained in various sports like cricket, football, tennis, volleyball, table tennis, swimming, skating, and others.

On Sundays and holidays, grounds and streets are filled with various "teams" comprised of players of all ages playing cricket or other such sports. Most professional cricketers have in fact played their first matches in the narrow alleys of towns and cities. Women prefer badminton or tennis. Kabaddi and kho-kho are popular among school children. More serious players play in private clubs or stadiums and generally pay a fee.

Mumbai, one of India’s most populated cities, offers various options for sports lovers. There are the Bombay Gymkhana, the Willingdon, the Otters Club, the Khar Gymkhana and Breach Candy Club where one can learn or practice their favorite sports. For serious players, the Maharashtra State Angling Association, the Western India Football Association, Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association, the Royal Bombay Yacht Club, and the Amateur Riders Club are other such professional organizations that offer facilities for nominal fees ranging from Rs.5 (US $0.12) to Rs.500 (US $1.2). The age-old traditions of sitting in wicker chairs and enjoying matches in private sports clubs still continues among the more affluent sections of the society. For a higher fee, members can make use of their squash and tennis courts, swimming pools, cricket grounds, or just lounge with a chilled beer and kebabs served by waiters.

Private Sports Clubs

The existence of gyms in India has been traced back to several hundreds years. Today, traditional regimes like yoga and some martial arts are staging a comeback, albeit in a western style. Gyms are becoming very popular with both young and old alike. Fitness centers like the Reebok’s Fitness Center and Fitness One offer personalized health services. For the more fitness-conscious and serious athletes, there are private sports clubs that offer a wider range of facilities.

Private sports clubs listings:

DLF Golf & Country Club
DLF City, Phase-V
Gurgaon-122 002
The DLF Golf & Country Club is part of the DLF City, the largest private township in Asia. This club features an 18-hole 7,250-yard Arnold Palmer Signature Championship Golf Course as well as tennis courts for its members. The City has a five-star hotel, shopping malls, five lakes and world-class entertainment centers. Other facilities are a chipping green, a dual-level floodlit driving range, putting green and practice sand traps. It offers two kinds of memberships: individual and corporate. Individual memberships are offered to residents of India, non-residents, and expatriates. Corporate memberships are for companies that can nominate a minimum of two employees or directors or partners of the firm. This membership is available for both Indian and foreign firms. Spouses and dependent children of members can make use of the club’s facilities. Guests of the members have to pay additional charges. Membership fees range from Rs.8 lacs for individual members to Rs. 16 lacs (US $40,165) for corporate memberships. Expatriates have to pay US$2,500 for a one-year membership and US$6,000 for a two-year membership, excluding a Rs.20,000 (US$502) refundable fee. There are separate prices for senior citizens and employees of armed forces.

The Royal Calcutta Turf Club
11 Russell Street
Calcutta Race Course
West Bengal
This club is one of the oldest racing clubs in the country, with a rich history dating back to 1847. At one time, this club had exclusive rights to conduct all the races in the country. It pioneered the use of the "Randwick Rails" which are now used by all top racetracks in the world. Facilities include a billiards/snooker room, a library, bars, a ladies bar, an exclusive race horse owner’s lounge, restaurants, a squash court, swimming pool, beauty salon, health club, and a world-class museum. This is also the first racetrack in India that has the facilities for night racing.

Delhi Gymkhana Club
2, Safdarjung Road
New Delhi
Previously known as the Imperial Delhi Gymkhana Club, this is one of the oldest sports clubs in the country. It has seven clay courts and 26 grass courts where several international tennis, squash, and badminton matches have been held. Other facilities are a covered swimming pool, three squash courts, dining hall, bars, library, restaurant, reading rooms, billiards room, and around 40 transit cottages. This club boasts of a 12,000 strong membership base from across the world. To become a member of this club, one has to submit an application form that endorsed by two permanent club members and Rs10,250 (US$257).

The Ootacamund Gymkhana Club
Finger Post PO, Ootacamund
643006, The Nilgiris
Tamil Nadu
Located in the beautiful Nilgiri hills in South India, this 100-year-old club has one of the more natural golf courses in the world. Located 7,000 feet above sea level, this 18-hole par-35 course spans across 193 acres. The course is open to visitors throughout the year, except when a tournament is taking place.

Bombay Gymkhana
MG Road Fort
The Bombay Gymkhana is famous both for its fascinating history as well as the multitude of world-class facilities it offers to sports lovers. Its over 5,000 members can make use of the three international-standard badminton courts, an air-conditioned billiard and snooker room with six tables, and a well-maintained cricket/soccer/rugby ground where international matches are played. It also features a swimming pool, six floodlit tennis courts with synthetic flooring, table tennis, and squash courts. Membership into this club has a long waiting period and fees run into the millions of rupees.

Royal Calcutta Golf Club
18 Golf Club Road Tollygunge
West Bengal
This is the world’s second oldest golf club and the oldest in India. It is fondly called by the name "Royal," given by King George V and Queen Mary during their visit to Calcutta in 1911. This has an 18-hole course, mostly on flat terrain with natural water hazards and small greens. The club also houses a swimming pool and tennis courts. It maintains a lawn bowling pavilion at the Kolkata Maidan. Coaching facilities are also offered at a nominal fee.

Delhi Golf Club
Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg
New Delhi
The Delhi Golf Club is known for its historical architecture, constructed among the tombs from the Lodhi dynasty. This club has two courses: the 18-hole Lodhi course and the 9-hole Peacock Course. It has a dining hall, a pub, card room, a bar, party room, a floodlit 250-yard driving range, a putting green, a swimming pool, health club, and various monuments of historic importance. The club also offers caddies and golf instructors. This club hosts various international golf tournaments including the Indian Open, which is a part of the Asian PGA circuit.

Madras Gymkhana Club
The Island
Anna Salai
Tamil Nadu
Founded in 1884, the Madras Gymkhana Club was earlier open to only the Garrison members. Initially, members partook in Polo and pig sticking and later moved on to cards, rugby, golf, tennis, and trap shooting as more facilities were added. The floodlit tennis courts have housed several international tennis tournaments for the ITF.

Bangalore Turf Club Ltd
Race Course Road
The Bangalore Tur Club Ltd was founded in 1920. The Maharaja of Mysore perpetually leased the racetrack lands to the Race Club Committee for as long as it is used for racing. The racetrack has the main grass track, along with three training tracks, training schools, an equine swimming pool, 1,040 stables, walking rings, an amateur riding school, and a veterinary hospital.

Tollygunge Club Ltd
120 Deshapran Sasmal Road
West Bengal
The Tollygunge Club has a 200-year history of encouraging sports and is regarded as one of the top twenty clubs in the world. It has an 18-hole golf course, tennis and squash courts, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and facilities for horseback riding, horse shows and equestrian sports. A cyber café, a sports shop, a health club, a reading room, a bridge room and a billiards room keep the club up to date with the latest sports.

Breach Candy Club
Breach Candy Swimming Bat Bhulabhai Desai Road
Cumballa Hill
The Breach Candy Club invites the rich and famous from all over the world. It is open only to holders of foreign passports. It has various amenities like a large swimming pool, tennis courts, lounge bars, and restaurants.

School Sports

Sports and games are an integral part of school life in India. The government is stressing the importance of encouraging children to take up sports. If possible, children participate in cricket, soccer (football), hockey, volleyball, track and field, basketball, handball, softball, tennis, badminton, table tennis, kho-kho, kabaddi, weightlifting, cycling, rowing, archery, swimming, and skating at the school level. However, not many schools have the facilities to conduct sports and games.

Inter-college and inter-university sports and games are exciting events in Indian colleges. They vie for trophies and shields like the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Trophy, the Dr BL Gupta Trophy and the Osmania University Platinum Jubilee (OUPJ) Trophy which were instituted to encourage students to participate in sports. Nearly 300 universities participate in the race for these trophies. Students who win at the district levels go on to play at the state and national levels. Many universities also have sports quotas while allotting seats in colleges.

Professional Sports

Hockey is the national sport in India, but cricket has the largest and most passionate following. Soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, and badminton are other favorite spectator professional sports. Indians have been world champions in some sports like chess, tennis, billiards, tennis, shooting, weightlifting, track and field, women’s field hockey, and rugby.

The only sport that sees a full stadium in India is cricket. Star cricketers are idolized and often receive millions of rupees for product endorsements. Every young boy aspires to be a Sachin Tendulkar, regarded as one of the greatest batsmen in history and sometimes called "The Little Master," or a Mahendra Singh Dhoni, current captain of the Indian Twenty20 and ODI teams. Other current cricket heroes are Sourav Ganguly, a captain who led India to the highest number of Test match victories, and Rahul Dravid, one of the world’s top ten batsmen with a record 9,000 runs in Test cricket. Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar are retired stars that still have a strong fan base.

Notable Shooters:
Rajyavardhan Sing Rathore
Jaspal Rana
Abhinav Brinda
Anjali Ved Pathak Bhagwat

?Notable Tennis Players:
Sania Mirza
Vijay Amritraj
Leander Adrian Paes
Mahesh Bhupathi

Notable Track and Field Athletes:
Milkha Singh
PT Usha
?Anju Bobby George
Ashwini Nachappa
Jyotirmoyee Sikdar

Other Notable Athletes:
Narain Karthikeyan (Formula-One and AIGP Race)
Geet Sethi (Billiards)
Pankaj Advani (Snooking)
Vishwanathan Anand (Chess)
Koneru Humpy (Chess)
Pullela Gopichand (Badminton)
Dhanraj Pillay (Hockey)
Major Dhyan Chand Singh (Hockey)
Jeev Milkha Singh (Golf)
Shiv Kapur (Golf)
Chetan Baboor (Table Tennis)
Karnam Malleswari (Weightlifting)
Nisha Millet (Swimming)
Joshna Chinappa (Women’s Squash)
Dipika Pallikal (Women’s Squash)
Jimmy George (Volleyball)
Limba Ram (Archery)
Dingko Singh (Boxing)

Popular and Dominant Teams- Cricket
The most dominant sport in India is cricket. The Ranji Trophy is the country’s top cricket tournament that decides the fate of all the teams. Some of the most formidable cricket teams in India are: the Mumbai Cricket team, 37-time winner of the Ranji Trophy, the Karnataka Team, six-time winner of the Ranji Trophy, and the Delhi Cricket team, six-time winner of the Ranji Trophy.

Popular and Dominant Teams- Hockey
In Hockey, the Orissa Steelers have won the Premier Hockey League in 2007, beating the Maratha Warriors, the Bangalore Lions, Chandigarh Dynamos, Sher-e-Jalandhar, Hyderabad Sultans and the Chennai Veerans. Dilip Tirkey, captain of the Orissa Steelers, led the team to win ten out of the twelve matches to win the title as well as Rs.4 million (US$100,514). The Bangalore Lions are also a formidable team in the Premier Hockey League. They won the PHL in 2006. Len Aiyappa scored eight goals and became the top scorer.

Popular and Dominant Teams- Soccer
In the field of soccer, the Mohun Bagan Athletic Club is a top team that has won many tournaments including the Rovers Cup (14 times), the Federation Cup (11 times), IFA Shield (22 titles), Durand Cup (16 times), Calcutta Football League/ Kolkata Super Division League/ Premiere division league titles (26 times) and National and Domestic League football (three times). Mohun Bagan’s biggest rival is the East Bengal Club, known by the name Kingfisher East Bengal Football Club. It is one of the best soccer teams in India after the Mohun Bagan team. Its main distinction is winning the Continental Trophy during the final of the ASEAN Cup championship in 2003.

The Dempo Sports Club, based in Goa, has top players like Climax Lawrence, Ranty Martins Soleye, Ishfaq Ahmed and Clifford Miranda. This club won its maiden National League title in 2004-2005. FC Kochin is India’s oldest professional football club.

There is a great rivalry between the East Bengal team, which represents the Eastern side of Bengal, and the Mohun Bagan team which has support from the West. Although both teams now have a mixed fan following, the rivalry between the teams still continues.

Indian women have a prominent place in the sporting arena, represented by athletes like Karnam Malleswari, Kunjarani Devi (both weightlifting champions), Joshna Chinnappa, Dipika Pallikal, Sania Mirza, Anju Bobby George, Aparajitha Balamurukan, Anwesha Reddy, Saumya Karki, Harita Omprakash and Anaka Alankamony. The women’s cricket team also has had several wins under its belt.

Major Spectator Sporting Events

Ranji Trophy (Cricket)
: November
Location: Venues all over India
Description: This is India’s top domestic cricket championship, similar to Australia’s Pura Cup and England’s County Championships. Most of the teams represent various states while others represent just one city like the Bombay Team or a utility company like the Railways team. Since 2003, the teams have been divided into two divisions: the Elite Group and the Plate Group.

Irani Trophy (Cricket)
: September
Location: Venues all over India
Description: This event was started to commemorate 25 years of the Ranji Cup. It was named after Z.R. Irani who was an integral part of the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) from 1928 to 1970. It is played between the Rest of India Team and winner of the Ranji Trophy.

Duleep Trophy (Cricket)
January to February
Location: Venues all over India
Description: Started by the BCCI in 1961,the Duleep Trophy is another premier cricket tournament played between the top teams from various states and zones. Originally, the teams were divided into five zones: North, South, East, West and Central. In 2002, a new format was adopted with the five groups replaced by groups named Elite A, Elite B, Elite C, Plate A and Plate B. This format was again revamped in 2004 and changed back into the original zonal teams but with a new dimension that the five teams play with a guest foreign team. Each team is comprised of players taken from the respective Ranji Trophy teams. 

Premier Hockey League
Location: Venues all over India
Description: The Premier Hockey League is conducted by the Indian Hockey Federation (IHF) in support with ESPN India.

Indian Derby (Horse Racing)
: February
Location: Mahalakshmi Race Course
Description: On the first Sunday of February every year, the Mumbai racing circuit comes alive with the "Crown Jewel of the Triple Crown." Only four-year old colts and fillies can participate in this event, sponsored by McDowell and Company, India’s top liquor company owned by Vijay Mallya, owner of the country’s top stables.

Durand Cup (Soccer)
: December
Location: Venues all over India
Description: Started in 1888, this is the country’s oldest and the world’s third oldest soccer tournament after the English FA-Cup and the Scottish FA-Cup.

National Football League (Soccer)
: September
Location: Venues all over India
Description : The National Football League is conducted by the All India Football Federation. It has three divisions: the Premier Division, the Second Division, and the Third Division.

Indian Masters (Golf)
Date: February
Location: Delhi
Description: The Indian Masters is a golf tournament that had its first event in February 2008. Sanctioned by the Indian Golf Union and the European Tour, this tournament will carry the highest prize money ever offered in India, US$2.5 million.

Hero Honda Indian Open (Golf)
: October
Location: Delhi
Description: One of the major events in the Asian PGA Tour, this is India’s oldest international golf tournament. It has a prize purse of US$400,000.

Chennai Open (Tennis)
: January
Location: SDAT Tennis Stadium
Description: The Chennai Open, held at the SDAT Tennis Stadium, is one of India’s biggest tennis events with prize money of US$400,000. Men’s Singles and Men’s Doubles are the events in this tournament.

Bangalore Open (Tennis)
: February
Location: Bangalore
Description: Started in 2006, this is a Tier III tournament played on outdoor hard courts. It is a WTA tour event.

Delhi International Marathon
: February
Location: Delhi
Description: This annual foot race in the capital city attracts around 20,000 participants. The proceeds from the marathon are given to various charities like the Child Relief and You (CRY) and Multiple Sclerosis Society of India. It carries a prize purse of $30,000 and $20,000 for men and women respectively. There are also other events like the Fun Run, the Half Marathon and the 5 Km Run.

Mumbai Marathon
: January
Location: Mumbai
Description: This annually held international event was started in 2004. It is a part of the "The Greatest Race on Earth" along with the Nairobi Marathon, the Hong Kong Marathon, and the Singapore Marathon. It attracts around 4,000 runners.