The Tata group has played a pivotal role in the development of sports in India, by establishing sports academies, supporting talented sportspersons, developing infrastructure and sponsoring events
2020 is a momentous year for India. She celebrates the centenary of her team’s first participation in the Olympics. Four athletes and two wrestlers represented India in the Antwerp Olympic Games in 1920. India’s participation in the Olympics has continued and she has notched up a tally of gold, silver and bronze medals. The Tata role in India’s development as a sporting nation is a well-known fact. However, not many know the Tata connection behind India's first foray into the Olympic Games. The fact that Sir Dorabji Tata, Tata group Founder Jamsetji Tata’s son, selected and sponsored the first Olympic contingent.
Jamsetji Tata appreciated physical recreation. “…reserve large areas for football, hockey and parks,” wrote the Founder in a letter to Sir Dorabji Tata in 1902. He was defining his vision for a township for the workers of a steel plant, which was still only on the drawing board. It came to life in 1907, three years after his death. Jamsetji’s love for physical recreation was inherited by his son Sir Dorabji Tata, and in no small measure.
Sir Dorabji was an avid sportsman, and as a student at Cambridge won honours for cricket, rugby and football. He also played tennis, was an expert rower and a good horseman, and competed and exceled in sprint events.
After his return to India, Sir Dorabji's ambition to put his country on the sports map of the world was never far from his mind. It fuelled his desire to sponsor the first Olympics team. His tireless championing for the development of athletics in India led to the formation of the Indian Olympic Association. He was elected the first president of the association and the initial expenses of the association were largely borne by Sir Dorabji. He was also selected as a member of the International Olympic Committee. Sir Dorabji also funded the Indian team for the Paris Olympics in 1924. The Willingdon Sports Club, the High Schools Athletic Association, the Bombay Presidency Olympic Games Association and the Parsi Gymkhana also owed their existence to Sir Dorabji.
Other visionary leaders of the Tata group followed in the footsteps of Sir Dorabji in setting up institutions that aided the flourishing of sports in India. Sir Nowroji Saklatvala was an avid cricketer and sportsman who was every ready to lend his name and money for causes worthy of support in indoor and outdoor sports. He was instrumental in setting up the Cricket Club Of India in 1933 and was its first chairman, a position he held till he passed away in 1938. He played a major role in the construction of the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. The cradle of sports, the Tata Sports Club, was established in 1937 while he was helming the Tata group. He was its first president.
Naval Tata was another Tata titan whose contribution to sports, in particular hockey, is immeasurable. Naval Tata was the first president of the All India Council of Sports. He served as the president of the Indian Hockey Association for 15 years — which was a glorious period for Indian hockey. India won gold in hockey in three consecutive Olympiads under his stewardship. His care and competence in administering Tata Sports Club, for close to 50 years, furthered the cause of sports and sportspeople in India.
The connection between the House of Tata and sports has expanded into newer arenas, and continues to the present day. The Tata Sports Club was one of the first set up by a corporate for the exclusive development of sporting talent in India. It has promoted a wide range of sports including athletics, cricket, badminton, carom and bridge, over the years.
The Tata Football Academy, The Tata Archery Academy, The Tata Steel Adventure Foundation, the Tata Athletics Academy and the Naval Tata Hockey Academy are some of the other Tata institutions that have nurtured sporting potential and provided platforms for talented sportspersons.
The group sponsors sporting events that invite participation from across the world, such as the Tata Mumbai Marathon, the Tata Open India International Challenge, Tata Open Maharashtra and the Tata Steel Chess Tournament.
The JRD Tata Sports Complex in Jamshedpur, home to the Jamshedpur FC, an Indian Super League team, is an example of outstanding infrastructure created for sports. Primarily used for football and athletics, the complex hosts a 40,000-seater stadium and sophisticated facilities for other sports, and for the boarding and lodging of sportsmen.
Champions are not born. They are created. The Tata group’s constant endeavour to identify and support sports talent and causes has enabled the emergence of champions who have brought laurels and glory for the Tata group and the nation — in the past and present, and with a promise that they will continue to do so in the future.