‘Great Sahara’ for national game: Sahara signs Rs 50-crore sponsorship deal with Hockey India

After snapping ties with Indian cricket, Sahara India Pariwar on Wednesday signed a new five-year sponsorship deal with Hockey India, giving a major boost to the national game. Though Sahara India Parivar did not divulge the sponsorship amount, sources said to The Times Of India that Sahara would be paying over Rs 50 crore over the next five years.

The company said it would sponsor the men's and women's national teams as well as junior ones for a period of five years. The sponsorship amount over the period is 170 per cent higher than the amount given by Sahara to the team in the previous deal.

Sahara was sponsoring hockey since 2003 before their contract expired in July last year. They renewed it for six months through an interim arrangement with Hockey India. Sahara had started off by sponsoring the men's team for Rs 2.5 crore in 2003 and extending it to Rs 3 crore after taking into the fold the women's as well as junior teams.

Meanwhile, The Hindu says that one of the strengths of the Indian hockey team is its attack from the right and incisive striker S.V. Sunil is an important member of the swift forwardline. “The alarming speed with which he goes past rival defenders and the way he delivers his stinging shots make Sunil a special player. In India's quest for an Olympic berth, the lean forward from Coorg (Karnataka) is all set to play a crucial role. After the Test series against South Africa, chief coach Michael Nobbs had underlined the value of Sunil. Nobbs had said that if the experienced Rajpal Singh had to find a place in the team, he had to replace Sunil and it was very hard considering the Karnataka player's present form,” writes the newspaper.

Caught on the back foot by Sahara’s sudden withdrawal, BCCI can take heart from the fact that many of India Inc’s leading lights have shown interest in sponsoring the Indian cricket team. According to Business Standard, at least two persons with direct knowledge of the developments say Reliance Industries, Hero MotoCorp, Future Group and BCCI’s domestic cricket sponsor Bharti Airtel are in the fray.

Sahara has indicated to BCCI that it is likely to move out of the Team India sponsorship after the tri-series in Australia. Sahara has been the sponsor of the cricket team since 2001 and its deal with BCCI, at Rs 3.34 crore per match, was to end on December 31, 2013. BCCI and Sahara officials are scheduled to meet on Thursday on the sponsorship issue.

According to a report in The Times Of India, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) virtually slammed the London Olympics door on four of India's women 400m runners, seeking a full two-year ban on the athletes for steroid abuse.  WADA's appeal to the National Anti-Doping Appeal Panel (NADAP), which was filed on Monday, comes as normal fallout of a dope verdict but nearly ends every chance the four athletes - Ashwini AC, Sini Jose, Priyanka Panwar and Tiana Mary Thomas - may have had of qualifying for the Olympics.

In its appeal, WADA has sought that the verdict of the National Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel (NADDP), which spelt out one-year bans on these athletes, be set aside and that the four runners be "sanctioned with a period of ineligibility of two years starting on the date of the decision that will be rendered by the appeal panel."

Meanwhile, two out of 30 samples, collected by the National Anti-Doping Agency (NADA) during the athletics meet of the 57th National School Games at Ludhiana, have returned positive results. According to The Hindu, both athletes who failed the dope tests were hammer throwers and the banned substances found were stanozolol and methandienone, according to a statement issued by NADA on Wednesday. The event was held from January 20 to 23.

Coming to tennis, Mahesh Bhupathi says the selection of the team for the upcoming London Olympics is best left to the All India Tennis Association. According to a Hindu report, “The team selection is not something to be decided by us. The AITA has to decide the best team available for the Olympics,” Bhupathi said.

When asked about how significant an addition to his Grand Slam trophies an Olympic medal would be, he said the two ought not to be compared. “I cannot compare the two as I am yet to win an Olympic medal. But I can say that if I miss an Olympic medal but do well in the Grand Slams, I won't call it a bad year,” he said.

In the meantime, Sania Mirza erased a one-set deficit to record her first win of the 2012 season as she defeated Japanese Ayumi Morita 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 in the opening round of the $220,000 Pattaya Open tennis tournament. According to newspapers report, the unseeded Indian took one hour and 32 minutes to tame her rival. Sania now has a tough task as she faces World No. 16 Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia in the second round. —

Another good news came in form of the third-seeded pair of Divij Sharan and Vishnu Vardhan who defeated the duo of Matthew Barton and Michael Look of Australia 6-2, 6-2 in the pre-quarterfinals of the $50,000 Challenger tennis tournament in Caloundra, Australia, on Wednesday. The Indian pair will meet Joshua Milton of Britain and Alexander Satschko of Germany in the quarterfinals.