It's all about hype and marketing



ADVANI: What's the point? PHOTO: VINO JOHN

ADVANI: What's the point? PHOTO: VINO JOHN  

It's sad, but to a great extent the popularity of a sport today depends on how well it is marketed. Soccer and tennis enjoy the benefits of solid organisational backing, and even if they do go through a crisis of faith once in a while it is no coincidence that these sports are incredibly popular.

In India relatively minor sports like snooker already have a tough time competing with cricket; it hardly helps that at the world level the governing bodies are fragmented. For instance, the former IBSF world snooker champion and Indian snooker prodigy, 20-year-old Pankaj Advani, is undoubtedly good enough to compete in the professional snooker circuit in England; but he believes there is no point in doing so, because it won't make any difference to his legitimacy as a champion.

"The professional circuit runs mainly in Great Britain and currently favours players from England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland; the organisers seem to think television ratings will dip if foreign players participate," explains Advani. "Some players from Netherlands and China entered the qualifying tournament to the pro tour a few years ago, but instead of trying to promote foreign players, the organisers pitted these guys against their countrymen. Agreed, both the IBSF and the WBPSA have their limitations, but it's happened too often in the pro league, so obviously outsiders are being systematically targeted.

"Yasin Merchant is the only Indian to have succeeded on the pro circuit, and he did it in the early 90s. I think snooker ought to transform into a world tour — make it a bit like tennis, where players travel all over the world, adapt to different places."

Advani's point is related to the one Viswanathan Anand made a few months ago: "A game like chess depends acutely on the notion of a world champion, but the term is devalued when you have splinter groups," the Indian Grandmaster said during an interview. "That's what has happened with boxing."

Like Anand points out, boxing has particularly lost its sheen since the time of the high-profile Mike Tyson; and if it is to regain its standing in sport, its governing bodies need to be unified through radical re-structuring.

Until such a time, better organised sports will take the lion's share of television audiences across the world.