"We are helping the Odisha government convert the world-class HPC’s into a ground reality," says Kunal Sood of Grant Thornton

Belgium v Netherlands - FIH Men's Hockey World Cup: Final
Belgium v Netherlands - FIH Men's Hockey World Cup: Final

Grant Thornton in India won the Best Sports Services Consulting Firm award at Assocham’s Sports Excellence Awards 2019 ceremony recently. This was for their impeccable work as a Project Management Unit for the Hockey World Cup 2018.

With their recent venture into the sports industry in India, Sportskeeda got in touch with Kunal Sood, partner at Grant Thornton India LLP. He speaks about the motivation behind firm’s entry in Indian sports industry, their achievements and future plans.

Some excerpts…

Q) How does it feel after winning the title of the best consulting firm in sports?

A. It has come as a pleasant surprise since we started to focus on sports close to two years back and saw there was some traction in the market. We were lucky to get a big mandate from the Hockey World Cup in Odisha and the whole team worked hard with the client to make it a grand success. The firm is celebrating and the entire team is very pleased with the recognition.

Kunal Sood
Kunal Sood

Q) You said that your firm shifted focus only in the last few years. What was your motive behind choosing sports in India?

A. To give you a background of how we have gone about developing our public sector practice which is mainly about driving development and working with governments, we wanted to focus on certain niche areas that are important for shaping a vibrant Bharat. That is how we got into skill India, ‘Make in India’, doubling of farmer’s income and smart cities initiatives. Then we realized that the market for management consulting in the sports sector was right and from the public and private sector standpoint, it was gaining a lot of traction that saw us enhance our focus. We also had like-minded people who supported us and everything came together to help us bring about the focus.

Q) When you were selected to manage the Hockey World Cup, what were some of the challenges you faced while planning or executing the plans associated with the event?

A. While it is true that hockey as a sport is not as popular as cricket or even football nowadays, hockey is very close to the hearts of many Indians, especially in the rural areas. A number of star players come from Odisha and hence the atmosphere there is unlike any other place in the country.

Naturally, since the World Cup was happening in Bhubaneswar, there was quite a bit of interest when you consider the demographics and I would not categorise it as a challenge from that front. Managing multiple stakeholders in an extremely tight timeframe was a challenge and a key focus area for the client, and we came on board to help overcome that challenge.

Q) Could you please walk us through the process of managing the World Cup, in a couple of sentences or more?

A. When we got this project, we were ably supported through GT’s international experience -- sports is pretty large in UK and South Africa. In UK we were involved with the London Olympics and the World Athletics Championships 2017 for instance.

That gave us a lot of experience and expertise owing to the large network we had and the other benefit was the passion we saw from the state government. Right from the chief minister to the top bureaucrats, everyone was very keen to make this event a key success.

They knew for a fact that this was not only about hosting the event but this was also about creating goodwill for the state and within the state. Through the social media websites, the youth was being associated with the sport from the state and that engagement was the major driving factor.

We had a lot of people with a wide array of skill sets right from the background of sports management, marketing, procurement, infrastructure, content writers, people who worked with the media and so it was a diverse field, which was acting like an extended arm of the government.

The larger goal, of course, was to get the stakeholders together. This involved the state government, federations…while it was hosted by the state government, it was India which was hosting the event for the world outside and participating countries.

There were several smaller events such as the jersey launch, planning of the opening ceremony etc. and I feel that was our greatest contribution in making sure that all came together when it mattered. The stakeholders all made sure that it was a great success and we take pride in the fact that we were able to facilitate the joining of hands.

Q) What are some of the projects you are currently working on? Is the partnership with the Punjab and Kerala government one of them?

A. We are continuing to work with the Odisha government. Having understood the importance of such an event (Hockey World Cup) with respect to the goodwill and infrastructure, the tourism that is attracted and the brand it created, we would love to continue the focus there and bring Bhubaneswar a label as the ‘sports capital of India’.

If you were following their campaign, sports and tourism was being projected together and in the next two years, our focus will be primarily to ensure that the High Performance Centres and coaching are available to athletes, managing efficient utilization of infrastructure and creating a continuous supply of sports events that will create a sporting culture amongst the youth.

Additionally, we are focusing on the grassroot development. There are a lot of corporations which are willing to provide funds and develop grassroot level sports.

We are helping the Kerala government create a vision document that will serve as a masterplan for all sports related activities in the state. Over a two-year period, our responsibility will be to implement it. Moreover, we are helping the state leverage the ‘Khelo India’ scheme for helping raise funds for executing the vision.

We are also working with the Punjab government which wants to upgrade a large number of stadiums and sports facilities. They are following a public-private partnership (PPP) approach to implement it and our mandate is to ensure that these are upgraded and used in a commercially-viable manner. Similar to Kerala and Punjab, we are also working with the government of Andhra Pradesh.

In fact, some of our current clients from the private sector include Kings XI Punjab and there our services would be procurement, planning, consulting and some other professional services as well.

Q) The Hockey World Cup is one of the major achievements that the firm has enjoyed since its establishment. Could you brief us on some other achievements that you feel have made a major impact or could turn out to be big projects in the future?

A. In addition to the Hockey World Cup 2018, The highest impact area would be creating of the ‘High Performance Centres’ (HPC’s) which we are currently undertaking with the government of Odisha. This would include games such as weightlifting, badminton, shooting, swimming, football etc. We are helping the Odisha government convert these world-class HPC’s into a ground reality. The response has been fantastic, and will help transform and establish Odisha as a sporting destination the entire region if not the country.

Q) Any plans that you have in mind to develop sports in India? You have been working with governments across the country and academies and is this something that you look to extend in the future?

A. An interesting trend to note is how a lot of money is utilised to develop sports infrastructure and various aspects of sports development. There have been 200 corporates which have utilised their CSR fund for sports. The spending might only be 5 per cent but the trend is growing and the number of corporates are also growing. It will not be a surprise to me if a lot more CSR funds are used for sports.

Our government and the private sector have a clear vision and intent to develop sports. Our value addition is our knowledge, our people. We hope to professionalise the sports management consulting services in India by bringing the best talent and practices in sports development from across the world to our clients.

Quick Links

Edited by Kingshuk Kusari