NEW DELHI (Online) – The Indian sports management professional, who gave India its first inter-city pro league featuring a raft of foreign recruits, says players from across the western border were “crowd-pullers” at the event, Indian media reported on Wednesday.
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“Spectators cheered every move of Pakistani players, [made] either individually or in combination with their Indian teammates,” says Sabyasachi Dasgupta of the now-defunct Premier Hockey League (PHL), which he conceptualised and breathed life into.
“They were the crowd-pullers, fans of the team having Pakistani players hero-worshipped them,” Dasgupta told this correspondent. “I could not have visualised the league without the presence of these players.” PHL was India’s first successful professional league across sporting disciplines when launched in 2005 – three years before cricket’s Indian Premier League (IPL) took off and became a phenomenon. Not many remember this.
Perhaps even fewer remember that Pakistan accounted for the maximum number of overseas players in PHL – every year for the four-season tournament – totalling 24 in the end, when PHL stopped because of administrative problems within the Indian federation split.
By the time the PHL, comprising seven inter-city teams, folded up in 2008 – ironically in the same year that saw IPL’s lift-off – it had proved beyond doubt that home-grown sports managers were capable of running pro leagues. Till then, in India as in the rest of the subcontinent, national sporting events were synonymous with the respective federations.
“PHL was the first professional, inter-city league not only in India but South Asia as well,” boasts Dasgupta, founder-managing director of the Kolkata-based Leisure Sports Management, one of the first such firms in the country. “Show me another league, in any sport anywhere in South Asia … either here in India or in Pakistan, or elsewhere in the subcontinent … which had city-based teams with foreign players before 2005. “I will give you the answer – there wasn’t any,” he concluded.