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CXOs in Sports: Interview with Bharath Devanathan, COO, Groupon APAC

Vinay Sundar
FEATURED WRITER
Modified 05 May 2014, 19:55 IST
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Bharath Devanathan, COO, GroupOn India

Bharath Devanathan, COO, Groupon APAC Emerging Markets

Sportskeeda brings another exciting series of interviews – CXOs in Sports, where we speak to eminent and prominent personalities, talking about their sporting interests and ideas for development of sports in general and of their sports work/interest in particular.

Bharath Devanathan is the COO, Groupon APAC Emerging Markets. Groupon is a deal-of-the-day website that features discounted gift certificates usable at local or national companies.

He is a sports enthusiast and Sportskeeda caught up with him recently to discuss his interest in sports and the future of sports in India. Excerpts:

What sports do you follow? How and when did you start?

I used to follow Football (specifically World Cups) and Cricket during my school days. I got introduced to football while I was in the 3rd grade in Bombay. As part of our school curriculum, we had to choose between different sports (I chose football), and play for 1 hour daily.

At about the same time I also started following football on television, specifically the 1990 World Cup where I used to follow Italy (Salvatore Schillaci won the Golden Boot that year) and Germany (Lothar Mattheus was a player I used to admire a lot).

Tell us more about the sport you play, Ultimate Frisbee. How did you develop that interest?

I was introduced to ultimate frisbee when I was working for Yahoo in the US. There was a group of people who used to play the sport twice a week in the evenings. Brian Acton, along with Jan Koum, the co-founders of Whatsapp were great enthusiasts of the sport, and they used to encourage everyone to play the sport regularly. Slowly, we had a decently big group of people playing the sport. Incidentally, Brian Acton gifted me my first frisbee.

How would you define the impact of Ultimate Frisbee on your life? Define that one aspect of the sport that has always attracted you.

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There are a couple of aspects of the sport that are very interesting and unique. The first is the disc itself; it is amazing to watch in flight. In most sports, there is the concept of a ball, and there are rules attached to how one can throw it. Ultimate Frisbee is unique because of the disc; one because there is a certain joy chasing and trying to catch it in flight, and two because the disc has no defined trajectory – it can be thrown in a million ways.

Another feature of Frisbee which makes it unique is the feature called Spirit of the Game – where each player is expected to be honest to themselves and to their opponents. The game is self-officiated, so it is understood that everyone will know the rules, and differences if any will be sorted out between the people concerned. Players can choose to contest any particular decision, it encourages being both respectful and competitive.

Ultimate has also greatly helped as a source of recreation. It has helped me find a social circle whose company I very much appreciate, as I find that I hang out a lot with the people that I play Frisbee with. It so always happens that ultimate players are on the same wavelength – you end up spending time with them off the field as well.

Also, when I travel on work or pleasure, I see that many cities have a huge Frisbee community – such as Jakarta and Manila. It helps you instantly establish a social circle in a new city.

India, as a country, has been much more willing to pick up sports other than Cricket in the last decade. What do you think has been essential to this change of perspective?

The most important factor to this change is the fact that sponsorship and promotions have now increased manifold. The money aspect has been sorted out; investment being made now in sports is definitely more than earlier. Examples of this are the Indian Football League, Indian Hockey League and the Indian Badminton League.

Another encouraging fact is that the current generation of youngsters don’t generally follow the blueprint; they are open to other avenues and specifically sports as a form of life or related to sports as an industry.

What has your best sporting moment been like? (Please share any anecdote that comes to your mind)

2012 was the year when my Ultimate Frisbee team (Learning to Fly) had set ourselves a target to win all 4 championships held in India, and we were able to win 3 of them. That felt good as a team.

Another special experience was when we played in Delhi at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The organizers had done a great job to popularize the sport, consequently there was a crowd of about 5-10 thousand (mostly school children) at the stadium, so it was a great experience. We walked through the player tunnel, played under lights, and were cheered on, so it felt really great.

Playing the sport

Playing the sport

Do you think Ultimate Frisbee can eventually become a full scale professional sport, both globally (keeping in mind the Major League Ultimate and the AUDL) and in India?

I think yes, definitely. It took more than 40 years for leagues to start in the US so India needs a minimum of 5-10 years more. But the potential is there for sure. The sport needs to grow, both in terms of players playing the sport, and the audience following the sport. We formed the Ultimate Players Association of India (UPAI) last year, and are focused on popularizing the sport in India.

For example, the sport started in Philippines in 2003, and is now very popular (big community) and Manila has 50 teams that play in a league/ week. Compare it with Bangalore, where the sport started in 2008-09, and now about 150 people play. This number needs to grow, both at the grassroots level and the involvement of working professionals.

What do you believe can be done to promote the growth of sports as a culture in India?

It has to start at the schools, like say having a compulsory focus on sports (I had 100 marks for sports in school). A lot more encouragement needs to be given at the grassroots level (easier when the kids are at a younger age). Parents now are different when compared to 20 years ago; they appreciate the value of sports as they understand that sport helps the children become well rounded individuals, as they learn qualities like handling pressure, discipline, sacrifice and leadership.

Who is the one professional Sportsperson you look upto, and why?

Rahul Dravid, for the simple reason that he recognized the fact that he was not as naturally gifted a talent as say someone like Sachin (or Kohli or Rohit nowadays) and that he had to rely on other qualities like his hard work, discipline, mental toughness and sacrifice to make it as a professional cricketer.

He understood that he had to work differently, like he used to tune off a day before the match, and liked to prepare himself for the match ahead, by doing things like Shadow practice and watching old videos of his batting

What do you think of the future of sports in India?

Definitely looks brighter than it was 20 years ago. There are a lot more working professionals who play sports now. The advent of state of the art playing facilities has been such that 5-a-side sports are now very popular in venues such as Decathlon and Powerplay.

Online sports communities such as Duplays (Dubai and now Gurgaon) offer people the chance to play sports when they are travelling in different countries and this will help encourage the growth of sports.

A message or quote that you’d like to share with our readers.

Encourage everyone to get involved in a sport and play a sport regularly (either early in the mornings or the evenings). It makes your day at work that much easier/productive. Take the learnings from your sport and apply it to other parts of your life

Published 12 Apr 2014, 19:28 IST
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