Sunil Bhaskaran is sure about the value that the support of sports and sportspeople has brought to Tata Steel, not least through the linkages with the wider community that this has enabled. Mr Bhaskaran, vice president, corporate services, at Tata Steel, speaks here about the company’s sporting culture, the sports academies it has established and its belief that the proper nurturing of talent is the way for India to find a place in the global sporting sun.

What has changed over the years and what has remained the same in Tata Steel’s approach to supporting sports and sportspeople?

Tata Steel has had a long and enduring commitment to sports. We have, over the years, created infrastructure for every sports discipline that is popular in and around our areas of operation.

In the current context, Tata Steel has been thinking of revitalising its strategy on sports and figuring out how it can make a bigger difference to Indian sports. There are three elements in our approach to sports: facilitating wellness among, and the wellbeing of, our employees; working with the community in the domain of sports; and nurturing talented young sportspeople.

Jamshedpur Football Club and the Naval Tata Hockey Academy (NTHA) represent two different approaches in the backing that Tata Steel provides in the sporting arena. What are the objectives of, and expectations from, these two initiatives?

One must first consider the history and connect between Tata Steel and football. The Tata Football Academy (TFA) was set up more than 30 years ago to help Indian talent realise its potential. Back then our objective was to help Indian football, and that’s what we did. Of the 200-odd football players who have passed out of from the academy, around 150 have represented the country. I don’t think there is any other cradle of football in India that has achieved as much.

Tata Steel’s foray into the Indian Super League (ISL) is part of our effort to take the overall ecosystem of the sport to a higher level. It is a matter of pride that 24 TFA cadets — of the 140 Indian players who have been signed — are currently playing in the league.

NTHA in Jamshedpur is a joint venture between Tata Steel and Tata Trusts that was launched in 2017. Tata Steel is the first private sector company in India to start a hockey academy. Our intent is to tap the vast pool of natural hockey talent in the tribal communities in Jharkhand, to train and support them in making a mark on the global stage.

What sort of scope do you see for Tata Steel to collaborate with other Tata entities in promoting and supporting sports, as has happened in the tie-up with Tata Trusts to set up NTHA?

Our being in the ISL is part of a Tata group initiative that is anchored in Jamshedpur. This is because we have the JRD Tata Sports Complex, TFA and excellent football infrastructure available in Jamshedpur. As for the tie-ups, there is tremendous scope to collaborate with Tata Steel’s sister companies and also with other Tata entities in the region.

Where to from here for Tata Steel with the sports academies that it has fostered? What have you learned from the experience?

There are more than 1,600 trainees at Tata Steel’s training centres and academies. The academies not only provide intensive training programmes but also all-round developmental opportunities, with facilities for formal education and vocational training. We would like to strengthen these academies and support and groom budding talent.

That’s what we are hoping to accomplish with the hockey academy in Jharkhand. The game is very popular among tribal communities in the state’s rural reaches. This belt has produced many international hockey players, and that with a bare minimum of infrastructure and negligible financial and technical help.

There would be many more job opportunities available for cadets of the hockey academy when compared with their counterparts in archery and football, since many government and public sector organisations have hockey teams. Moreover, with the success of the Indian Hockey League, the demand for quality players is going to increase.

How do you see the company involvement with sports panning out over the next five years?

I see our involvement with sporting activities intensifying, especially in sporting disciplines that find favour with stakeholders living in and around our operational areas. The focus will be on creating centres of excellence and promoting individual talent.

Tata Steel has organised a league for the tribal sport of sekkor. Are there plans to support other tribal sports?

We believe that sport plays a vital role in the holistic development of communities. The tribes of Jharkhand have had a culture of playing traditional games. Sadly, these games have withered away with time. In fact, many of them have been forgotten and are almost lost.

Tata Steel’s Tribal Cultural Society has been making consistent efforts to promote and revive other tribal games, such as kati, chhur, bahu chor and ramdel. Training and holding tournaments for these sports are part of Tata Steel’s efforts to promote and revive what are tribal traditions.