Tata Sports Club has been both breeding ground and sporting haven for individual and team talent from across the Tata group
With a thoroughly enthusiastic JRD Tata as its president — the legendary Tata group chairman held the position from 1937 to 1980 — Tata Sports Club never lacked for resources, or the ambition to set high standards in a variety of sporting disciplines, most notably hockey, football, cricket and athletics.
It was customary in India’s early post-Independence years for the big companies of the group, Tata Steel, Tata Power, Tata Motors and Indian Hotels among them, to employ emerging sporting talent and to provide a stage where they could display their ability and maximise their potential. Tata Sports Club supplemented such backing by putting together squads that went on to dominate their respective sports on the national stage.
Tata Sports Club’s hockey team flourished in the fertile sporting environment that the group created. In 1951, the team triumphed in the Hockey League Cup, the Bombay Provincial Hockey Cup, the Gold Cup and the Aga Khan Cup. Several members of the consistently powerful Bombay team competing in the national championships were from the club. The Tata Sports Club football team was equally well-established, winning numerous honours in tournaments like the Durand Cup, the IFA Shield, the Rovers Cup and the Harwood League. The club was equally outstanding in cricket, with stars such as Nari Contractor, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, Sandeep Patil and Saurav Ganguly in its ranks.
The contribution the club made to the cause of Indian sport was best articulated by the famous journalist and broadcaster AFS ‘Bobby’ Talyarkhan: “With the founding of Tata Sports Club, there was fused into Indian sports something new, something which opened out a vast field for the enrichment of sporting talent in this country… Today, go where you will in India, when you say Tata, you also say sport.”
Among the galaxy of stars who turned out for the Tata Sports Club cricket team during its halcyon days were (from left) former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri — currently coaching Virat Kohli and his men in blue — and Milind Rege, seen here with Sunil Gavaskar in 1970; (extreme right) Sunil Gavaskar presenting his India cap to JRD Tata before a match at the Wankhede Stadium in Bombay to celebrate the club’s golden jubilee in 1987.
(Left to right) Goalkeeper Leo Pinto, who helped India win gold in the 1948 London Olympics, was one of the many big names who turned out for a dominant Tata Sports Club hockey team; midfielder Surendra Kumar played with distinction for the club’s football team at a time when it won honours galore; the elegant middle-distance runner Edward Sequeira lorded it over the 800m and 1,500m races in India from 1963 to 1973, setting records and representing the country in the Asiad, the Commonwealth Games and the 1972 Munich Olympics; Bahadur Singh topped in the throwing events at the national level for many years and won a medal at the Asian Games.
Dorab Tata (left), who succeeded his father, Jamsetji Tata, at the helm of the Tata group, poses with his wife, Meherbai Tata, in this 1917 photograph. Dorab Tata discovered his love for sports during his time as a student in England. At Cambridge, he distinguished himself at cricket and football, played tennis for his college, became an expert rower and won several sprint events. Later in life, he became a patron and supporter of the Indian Olympic Association. India owed, to a large extent, its participation in the 1920 Antwerp Olympics to Dorab Tata, who also financed the Indian contingent that went to the Paris Olympiad of 1924. Seen here (right) with some of her tennis trophies, Meherbai Tata won tournaments held in Bombay and other places and remained a fan of the sport all her life.
Tata group Founder Jamsetji Tata (seated at the centre in picture on the left) with the Kathiawar cricket team in this image from 1898. Picture on the right: Ratan Tata (seated second from right), the younger son of Jamsetji Tata, at the Cumballa Hill Tennis Club in Bombay circa 1903. It was Jamsetji Tata’s belief in sports as a force for good that seeded the Tata culture of supporting different games and the athletes who excelled in them.
(Left to right) JRD Tata taking to two wheels for a ‘slow cycling’ event in Jamshedpur in 1957; playing golf in Bombay; and exchanging notes with Randhir Singh Gentle, the hockey legend who was an integral part of the Indian team that won three consecutive Olympic gold medals, in London in 1948, in Helsinki in 1952 and in Melbourne in 1956, when he captained the squad. Gentle was one of numerous outstanding sportsmen who were members of Tata Sports Club, which had JRD Tata as president for more than 40 years. Naturally inclined towards sports — he was more than familiar, as a participant, with football, aquatics and weightlifting — JRD Tata did much for sports at Tata and in India.
(Left to right) Naval Tata getting a victory arch in his honour from members of the Tata Sports Club hockey team in Nairobi in Kenya; watching a match in Bombay in the 1950s with, among others, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (front right) and JRD Tata (middle centre); and at a football tournament in Jamshedpur. A multifaceted Tata leader, Naval Tata proved his mettle as a sports administrator during an outstanding stint as president of the Indian Hockey Federation from 1946 to 1961, the glory years for India in the game, particularly at the Olympics. He was the first president of the All India Council for Sports and also served as vice chairman of the International Hockey Federation, the game’s governing body, for more than a decade.
Images courtesy: Tata Central Archives