Want India to win more sporting golds? Consider sharing your own

It's a sorry state of affairs when a budding sportsperson suffers from lack of funds because their chosen sport is not popular or gloried. Enter crowdfunding.

August 02, 2017 02:57 pm | Updated 03:18 pm IST

In India, popular sports like cricket are rolling in dough. Obscure, less popular sports need a helping hand or two, or a crowd's worth.

In India, popular sports like cricket are rolling in dough. Obscure, less popular sports need a helping hand or two, or a crowd's worth.

This is a blog post from

There is a clear but ruthless reality in sport. Nobody cares about an athlete or their sport if they don't win in it. And India doesn't win in too many sports despite the stunning diversity and size of the country. Or the number of athletes. The harsh truth is that we regularly win only in two sports — cricket and badminton. And those two, therefore, have no dearth in funding — the former obviously backed by a corporation styling itself as a national sports body. To its credit though, the BCCI has used every success story in cricket in a remarkable way to generate profit for years to come.

We've got medals in wrestling, and the government whole-heartedly backs it. We used to win in hockey but the glory days are long gone. At least for the senior team, which last won an Olympic medal in 1980. Since then, their best finish has been 5th in the 1984 Games . The last Hockey World Cup medal was a gold in 1975. The gold at the 2014 Asian Games is a saving grace in the sport's modern history. In football, we are ranked 96th despite an incredibly large number of people playing the sport. Qualifying for the World Cup is a distant dream.

Long story short, there is a sheer disparity in the number of sports Indians play, the amount of success in it, and its development in our country.


So when a clutch of individuals from Northern India want to represent the country in ice hockey, they have to ask for money from the public. If luge athlete and five-time Olympian Shiva Keshavan wants to participate internationally — he has to turn to the public. Same for racewalker KT Irfan or shooter Ayonika Paul or discus-thrower Vikas Gowda. Paralympians, like Mark Dharmai (badminton) have also turned to crowdfunding. And if this plea to the public from elite sportspersons doesn't describe the state of obscure sport in the country, then nothing else does.

Bhakti Sharma , the youngest open water swimmer in the world to set a record in Antarctic waters, puts it in perspective:

"Swimming as a sport, like many others, is being overlooked. What's truly missing is a vision that incorporates the diversity of sports and sportspersons. Our corporate sponsors need to broaden their horizon and develop a fresh perspective towards sports like swimming and adventure sports and how to use them for their branding campaigns. Individuals are constantly breaking barriers and conventions and the federations and sponsors need to get innovative along with them. I hope crowdfunding isn't the only way left for me and other athletes."

Sharma has swum in all the oceans of the world, apart from having braved eight other channels. She should be celebrated by India, but is left short when it comes to finding the funds for training.

"The common complaint among athletes is always the government. Either the money doesn't come on time or it is not sufficient," says Varun Sheth , who is the co-founder and CEO of crowdfunding platform Ketto.


Ketto has been the preferred platform for the ice hockey teams — and while the women's team got brilliant funding from the public, the men's team is failing to meet the required target of Rs.12 lakh.

"We have managed to raise Rs.2.5 lakh and have extended the campaign by a month to reach the target," says Ice Hockey Association of India general secretary Harjinder Singh.

The upsurge in turning to people started in India around 2012. "Social media and digital payments became the norm. To ask for money online, there had to be an insane amount of people online," says Sheth, who started Ketto in 2012.

"The challenge was to tell a good story and to build a concept which people understand. Crowdfunding in India requires hand-holding a prospective donor and that means companies had to not just provide a platform but also work on creatives. Videos, social media strategy and reach became important for us," adds Ranganath Thota, the founder of another Indian crowdfunding platform called fueladream .

Fueladream is fairly new in the market — 14 months old right now — and has raised a total of Rs.4.1 crore. Out of this, Rs.30 lakh have been raised for athletes.

Crowdfunding companies are not non-profit organisations. Even though their work is humanitarian, these companies need to pump capital in to make things work before thinking of eventually making money. Thota, who has worked in the corporate world and has companies like Pepsi, Whirlpool and Hindustan Times on his CV, told us that he had sold all his assets since immersing himself in fueladream.


Fueladream takes a 7% cut of the money raised. Ketto charges 6%. These margins are excluding gateway charges (3%) and GST (18%). If a target is not met, the money is still disbursed to the fundraising party, which could be an individual or a corporate. There are different programmes which allow ample flexibility to an athlete — wheelchair marathoner Shailesh Kumar needed a set amount for a new wheelchair so his campaign ends as soon as the target is reached. For some, like marathoner Anil Kumar, the response was overwhelming. His target was Rs.70,000 but crossed Rs.1,17,000. The additional money will also be disbursed to him or carried forward into another campaign if he wishes so.

"The success of a campaign also comes down to how the media covers the story. We are reliant on the story being covered by various outlets. Twitter and Facebook kicks in. If the reach is good, like for the women's ice hockey team, then the rate of success is higher," says Sheth.


Long story short, there is a sheer disparity in the number of sports Indians play, the amount of success in it, and its development in our country.

Paralympic badminton star Mark Dharmai 's crowdfunded trip to compete at the Thailand Para-badminton International 2017 resulted in a silver medal for him. Dharmai suffers from achondroplasia (a form of dwarfism) and his campaign went so good that it will also help him compete at the World Dwarf Games in Canada in August.

"Crowdfunding was a pleasant surprise and honestly a positive shocker. When a couple of blokes remitted Rs.2 lakh and Rs.70,000 respectively, l thought there was something wrong... a typographical error. But lo and behold, it was authentic. What's amazing is that there are good folks in this world but with our jaundiced vision we need to locate them. The concept is amazing and a platform which can reach other parts of the world can open up immense possibilities," he says.

There is the double-edged sword of wanting sports federations to fail in order for crowdfunding companies to get people like Mark on board. However, the thought of people taking over your sport and funding someone who competes for the nation has an odd simplicity and beauty to it. But as Thota put it — the ideal situation is that no athlete has to openly raise funds from people.

"I would love that the market gets saturated. Because that would be the perfect world."

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.