Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Interview- Anil Kumar (Great Sports Infra)

Sports infra is at a nascent stage in India – and opportunities for development are immense

Since it came into being in 2004, Hyderabad-based Great Sports Infra has been at the forefront of providing new generation sports solutions in the Indian market and the SAARC region. In the process it has redefined the meaning of sports infrastructure in the country. ANIL KUMAR, MANAGING DIRECTOR, GREAT SPORTS INFRA offered SHRIKANT RAO his perspective on the state of Indian sports infrastructure and the role played by his firm in raising its status. 

 

On the existing demand supply gap in terms of sports facilities: Sports infrastructure is at a very nascent stage in India. Having a handful of large stadiums - even if they are of international standard - is not the definition of having adequate sports infra in a country. While the large stadiums are needed to host international competitions, the general population of the country needs to have at least amateur standard facilities within 10 kilometres of large concentration of population.

 

A typical sports infrastructure facility at an amateur level should cater to multiple sports and the focus of the design and investment should be on the playing surface and not on the seating capacity. In many instances, government investment in many stadia in India tends to over-invest in seating capacity when you will hardly have 5-10 full stadiums days in a year. Rather, the investment should be on providing minimum standard synthetic surfaces - whether for athletics, hockey, football, tennis or most other outdoor and indoor sports; and of course, a well equipped gym. To quantify my point, it would be better to invest Rs 10 crore in building 10 facilities than Rs.100 crore in one huge stadium. In fact some stadiums in India cost hundreds of crore but serve only for occasional major events. Most of these massive investments also become white elephants.

 

So assuming the government views this - the basic facility as the focus of investment - the opportunity is massive. Each district HQ should have one (so that's about 650), 10 in each Metro, 5 in each Tier 1 state capitals and 3 in each of the smaller capitals, this would imply about 800 facilities at an outlay of Rs 8,000 crore over 10-15 years. Even if we benchmark against sports infra penetration in any developed country or on per capita basis, our sports infra - possibly excepting cricket - is decades behind.

 

Role of his organisation in development of sports infrastructure: Starting in 2004, Great Sports Infra's vision and mission is primarily to provide the entire spectrum of innovative and new-generation sports surfaces, from amateur to competition level sports facilities. We are the company to introduce next-generation artificial grass in India - FieldTurf (needing no water unlike the old-generation hockey turfs); innovative modular sports flooring (SnapSports) which are portable and last over 20 years even outdoors. Both have taken off successfully in India with many stadiums, clubs, schools and even residential complexes opting for these. In addition, we have also introduced sub-surface aeration technology (SubAir), turf protection systems (Terraplas) etc. Our product range includes hardwood sports flooring (Tarkett), cushioned PVC surfaces for Indoor sports (Omnisports), acrylic (synthetic) courts etc. While we do undertake all the civil work that would go into constructing a sports facility, our core expertise lies in building the exacting standards of playing surfaces - FIFA standard football fields, FIH standard hockey fields, IAAF standard athletic tracks, ITF standard tennis courts, FIBA standard basketball courts etc - on a turnkey basis. Of course, we also undertake all peripheral equipment like lighting, scoreboards, seating, fencing, timing systems etc.

 

On technologies introduced by Great Sports Infra: One of the innovative technologies we have introduced is sub-surface aeration system for natural grass playing surfaces. This technology - called SubAir - helps natural grass fields to be at their very best, while supporting multiple sports, frequent scheduling of games and helps stadiums conduct non-sports activities at other times without damaging the turf. SubAir has been very widely installed for many championship golf courses across the world (including Augusta and Pebble Beach). Most recently it is also been provided for 4 stadiums in the upcoming FIFA World Cup (2014) in Brazil. And will feature in the next World Cup in Russia (2018). Its utility is also being widely appreciated and welcomed in the cricket stadiums worldwide (where it prevents loss of playing time as it can drain the outfield rapidly during rains) and also in multi-sport / multi-purpose stadiums which need to host many events. This is particularly very appealing to the newer trend of stadiums being constructed on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) basis, wherein the PPP developer has to maximise the revenue generation potential from the stadium to make it most economically viable. Another innovative product is "Turf Protection tiles" called Terraplas for natural or artificial grass. These are primarily used in stadiums which need to host non-sports events (Opening / Closing ceremonies; Music concerts, Trade shows etc) so that all the vehicle, equipment, seating, people and material movement can take place for these events, without damaging the turf and ensuring you could play a world-class match on the same surface right after the event.

 

On the key issues of sports infrastructure: The main challenge in this sector is the relatively small percentage for sports allocation in the central and state government budgets. But it is still much better than just 5 years ago and its proportion seems to be increasing each year. The other challenge is the high customs duty applicable on imported materials. We are hoping that sooner than later there will be customs duty exemption for sports related products. Of course a weakening Indian rupee compounds this problem.

 

On the landmark projects implemented: In terms of landmark projects, we are proud of having installed a track for the World Military Games (Hyderabad, 2007), our FIFA certified artificial turf football turf at the iconic Salt Lake stadium, which also hosted India's first ever FIFA match (Argentina - Venezuela) and which saw the legendary Lionel Messi showcasing his skills on FieldTurf. The ROI, maintenance-free, long life, multi-sports/multi-purpose aspects of FieldTurf has resulted in almost 15 FIFA standard football fields in India, dozens of schools playgrounds and other facilities spanning almost 40 lakh sq ft.  We have also just completed India's largest indoor sports facility for the Government of Gujarat, wherein our cushioned PVC flooring (Omnisports from Tarkett) was installed in an area of almost 50,000 Sft. We have also installed India's first golf practice course with synthetic turf for 11 greens and almost 100 Driving Range bays.

 

On the current sports projects: Currently, we are executing world-class projects for athletic tracks (Porplastic), hockey field, football field, Futsal etc., for the upcoming National Games in Kerala; 3 FIFA standard artificial turf football fields for the Meghalaya government, outdoor Basketball and tennis facilities for the Government of J&K, FIH standard hockey field for the Government of Jharkhand, 2 athletic tracks for the Government of Karnataka, 2 IAAF standard athletic tracks (Porplastic) in Mauritius etc.

 

On the sports solutions offered by his organisation: The technologies spanning all the projects we have done are very vast to describe, but suffice it to say that across all these and similar projects that we undertake, we offer everything appropriate for an amateur facility, practice facility, professional facility to competition facility. The overriding theme in our offering is that not all facilities are necessarily meant for international level competitions and therefore, a significant part of our products and services are catering to even schools, clubs, residential complexes, pay-n-play facilities etc. Given the constraint of space in most urban areas, it is difficult to dedicate an area exclusively for one sport or for that matter sports alone. And as budget availability can be limited in many instances, some innovative solutions are needed. Therefore, we offer a perfect solution wherein many of our products can actually support multiple sports on the same area and yet, at other times these surfaces can also be used for non-sports activities.  These new generation products have also opened up a large market for those investing in Pay-N-Play facilities. So, those with idle space - sometimes even vacant rooftop areas - and with a reasonable budget are finding it commercially viable to invest in sports facilities that charge users on an hourly basis.

 

On Indian sports infrastructure developers, international competition and learnings: There are currently very few sports infra developers in India. Many also tend to view constructing the gallery or change rooms or toilets of a stadium as ‘sports infra’. However, while civil work is an integral part of sports infra, the real expertise would be in building the play areas of exacting standards like IAAF, FIFA, FIH, FIBA etc. For those in these specific areas, Indian sports infra developers are fairly on par with those internationally. Maybe the budgets and specifications in India do not allow - not does the customer always demand - the finishing as you would find internationally. The focus in India by administrators is usually getting the minimum standards, not always the highest standards. It may also have to do with relatively limited knowledge to evaluate products and to some extent sports - other than cricket - not being a huge part of the culture, wherein sportspersons, parents, administrators demand the best and government or schools or private entities provide the budgets accordingly.

 

On the way forward for Indian sports infra: With each passing year, the scope and potential in sports infra is definitely increasing. We have a positive outlook for the near future. As more and more state governments are earmarking larger budgets for sports infrastructure, we are well positioned to leverage our expertise and make the most of these opportunities.            
 

 

EXPECTATIONS FROM GOVERNMENT

  • Making it mandatory for 1 per cent of the budget to be allocated to sports each year (State and Central).
  • Elimination of customs duty for import of sports products.
  • Making it mandatory for schools to have a certain minimum sports infra.
  • Defining a 10 year plan wherein each district will get a minimum standard sports facility.



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