The possibility of badminton overtaking cricket in India sounds too remote for anyone propagating such an idea to be taken seriously. However, when the person discussing this possibility happens to be the India distributor of sports major Adidas, it’s obvious that this is not in the realm of idle speculation.
Navendu Jain of Enkay India Rubber Ltd – which has been in the sports goods business for 50 years now – is in charge of distribution of Adidas in India, including its recently-launched badminton equipment. The German company launched its badminton range in India during the India Open. “Badminton has the ability to surpass cricket and football in India,” Jain says. “But that is some distance away.”
The primary advantage with badminton, he says, is that it appeals to both sexes, unlike many other mainstream sports. The other advantage is that beginners require no training to play it as a recreational sport. With several Indians competing in the premier events, and with Saina Nehwal becoming an icon, the sport’s popularity in India has shot up over the last five years or so. The primary question is of infrastructure – the lack of badminton halls. But Jain believes the situation wasn’t different with cricket before India won its first World Cup in 1983. “If you go back 20 years, we didn’t have the number of cricket grounds that we do now,” Jain says. “It was after the 1983 World Cup win that we saw cricketing infrastructure increasing. We see a similar potential in badminton. Badminton in India is in a nascent stage. It’s still growing, and should grow significantly. A lot of avenues are open, and the commercial activity has not started at all.”
One of the drivers of change, he believes, could be the Indian Badminton League. “The IBL will bring the sport to the drawing rooms of the public. Once that happens, the outlook will change. The IBL will bring international players to India, and that will help raise the Indian standard too.”
Adidas formally entered badminton in January this year, after three years of preparations. For the Indian market, the company plans to introduce a full range – from the beginner to the elite level. The German company’s USP is its investment in technology, which Jain says has been leveraged to improve the badminton range. “There are significant changes in technology for rackets, shuttles and other equipment,” Jain explains. “For the racket, you can change its weight on the fly by using add-ons. It’s a patented technology. As for the strings, we are using different thicknesses in the same racket head, like the thickness of the string on the vertical axis will be different from the horizontal axis, and so on.”
The entry of Adidas into badminton does give the Indian badminton community much to look forward to. With several brands now vying for the market share, it’s going to be a happy time for players. Expect frenzied brand activity in the months ahead.