In conversation with Sundar Mahalingam on the HCL Inter School Tennis Challenge
Following on from the success of last year's inaugural edition, the 2016 HCL Inter-School Tennis Challenge ushered in another round of opportunity for young tennis stars to showcase their talent. Held at the Sri Ramachandra University in Chennai, this year's edition saw young boys and girls from over 50 schools participating, including prominent ones such as St. Michaels, Sishya, Velammal, Good Shepherd, Padma Seshadri and Kendriya Vidyalaya.
Sundar Mahalingam has been one of the key persons behind the conception of this tournament. A keen enthusiast in sports and fitness, Sundar is the Chief Strategy Officer of HCL Corporation and the Shiv Nadar Foundation. He has been responsible for building the HCL brand over the last decade in its journey to becoming a $7 billion and over 105,000 people strong enterprise.
We caught up with him on the sidelines of the event to talk about the tournament and more.
Q: How did this idea of associating with sport and tennis, in particular, shape up?
As a brand, we believe in the philosophy of touching lives. Among the things that touch people’s lives, sports and music rank fairly high. Sports is a great leveller and can easily touch lives of people through opportunities in the field. Tennis is a sport that is enjoyed the world over and there is a lot of interest in India around the game. India has also produced a few exceptional players over the years. It is our vision that if the right kind of opportunity is extended to the youth they can shape up as players who will make our country proud in the future.
Q: At a similar level, could you tell us about the other initiatives that HCL has undertaken in sport?
HCL has been a champion of art and sports for many years. Last year we sponsored the World Bridge Championship, which happened in India for the first time. HCL has also conducted the HCL Bridge Championship regularly since 2003, and that has become the most prestigious bridge tournament in the country. HCL has been associated with the Subroto Cup in pursuit of excellence in Football.
Q: We have seen an explosion of sport in the country in recent years. Could you tell us how this venture would provide a platform to these youngsters in this endeavour?
I believe that there is a lack of competitive platforms in tennis, at school level, especially the under-12 and under-14 categories. These are the player’s formative years. These tournaments should become a part of the annual calendar so that the youngsters are encouraged to improve their game in order to perform better. The students who win the tournament are sent for a week-long training at an international academy. The winners of last year’s tournament were sent to Schuttler Waske Tennis University in Germany.
Q; What do you think has been a reason for the sport to grow so much and how do you see this space of sport along with corporate backing developing in the country in the coming years?
Parents, especially urban middle class parents used to put more emphasis on academics than sports. That attitude is rapidly changing. Rising incomes and urban cities provide acceptance to alternate careers, lot of people are looking at sports as a career. Parents are beginning to treat sports as not just a hobby but as a discipline than can be pursued as a career. Also, the sports amenities and infrastructure are gradually improving, giving more access to the youth. This is a great time to be in sports.
Q: Two editions of the HCL Inter-School Tennis Challenge have been successfully completed. How do you feel with respect to how it has gone so far?
When we started off, we were apprehensive about the response we would receive. But we were overwhelmed with enthusiastic acceptance of the tournament and also by the quality of the games. More than 70 odd schools participated last year, when the tournament was organized in Delhi and this year as well we received a great response.
Q: How do you aim to build on this and what can we expect to see in the future?
Our story is long term. What we are hoping for is, more participants and young students looking forward to this tournament.