`Plenty of potential for progress'

A. Joseph Antony

HYDERABAD: Cricket is India's No. 1 sport but there's room at the top if the United States-based National Basketball Association's optimism is anything to go by.

On a recce to study the game's prospects in these parts were Mark Aronson, NBA Entertainment's Vice-President for Events and Attractions and Brooks Meek, NBA's Director for International Operations. In an exclusive chat with The Hindu, they said basketball had made inroads in nations and continents, contending with half-a-dozen very popular sports.

Describing India as middle of the pack among Asian teams, Meek after seeing TV footage of Indian teams and players, said there was plenty of potential for progress. So did he watch Talwinder Singh and Jagdeep Singh in a `Basketball without Borders' programme in Beijing? While India was unique, there was nothing about its game or infrastructure that made it any less than many other nations.

An organised governing body, the Basketball Federation of India (BFI), was already in place as were pockets of interest prevalent in colleges, clubs and among youth. Also going in its favour was the equal percentage of men and women playing the game here.

On a fortnight's visit to India, accompanied by FIBA Commissioner, Norman Swaroop Isaac, they said the NBA was exploring a long-term strategy for development of the sport along with the BFI. As much as India was emerging as a huge market, so was there scope for the game's growth, they said.

On the possibility of future visits by NBA teams or enrolling the YMCA's support to popularise the game, Aronson said a model that would work in India was what they were aiming at. To that end, components from programmes elsewhere would also be used.

They were impressed by the superdome coming up at the National Sports Club, Mumbai, and the facilities in Pune and Hyderabad. Two indoor stadia in the Twin Cities at Gachibowli and Yousufguda showed a commitment to sports, Aronson said.

The duo will also visit Bangalore, Delhi, Ludhiana and Jaipur as part of the `learning process.'