By Rashi Wadhera

An Ivy League education, an erstwhile management consultant position with Deloitte {at its NYC HQ’s} and by any definition, an almost perfect career path, upstaged entirely by a love for sport so deep, rivaled only by his commitment to developing it. Delhiwaala Vivek Sethia is all set to ensure that his enterprise, India on Track, becomes the game changer for sport in India.

How did India on Track happen for you?

A born and bred Delhi boy, I experimented with an insurance process start-up, which grew exponentially from 3 to 150 people in 13 months. Soon after, I finished my MBA at Cornell, and began life as a consultant with Deloitte. As a 5-time national junior skating champion, I knew I had to do something for development of sport in India. A serious hiking accident and a 3-month forced sabbatical later, I had paid off my loans and began exploring the idea of IOT. I approached investors with just the idea of Tier-III, who very politely told me where to put it.

I didn’t give up. I worked for Commune {a sports and entertainment agency}, had the privilege of working with the Indian Hockey Federation on the Hockey World Cup, learnt the ropes in India {after being away for so long}, and then the rest is, well, India on Track.

Tell us about India on Track…

India on Track has been set up for grassroots development of sport in the country. So far, every single development model has been unsustainable. IOT is a for-profit organization, dedicated to providing a sustainable and encouraging eco-system for budding Indian sportspersons to be able to hone and train their skills and inherent talent under the guidance of qualified individuals, while paying equal attention to the science and rigour of their sport. Our foray into this endeavor started with football, and is so far restricted to just that.

How does IOT plan on doing all that you described?

We have a 3 tier model in place, and although most of it is work in progress, it serves as an end goal, one we hope to get to very soon.

Tier I deals with grassroots development, which involves a pay-to-play system. We have tied up with Arsenal Football Club to create a comprehensive soccer school’s program which involves football camps and academies run in schools for ages between 6 and 17 years, providing the best facilities, foreign coaches, UEFA licensed head coaches, and mandatory medics at each venue. Tier I focuses on imparting high quality training, in a disciplined environment, paying attention to life skills as much as football skills, and providing a good recreational alternative to school kids.

Tier II is the reason for our existence. It is in place only for serious footballers, who are scouted from all parts of the country, evaluated by our coaches and then invited to participate. They are privy to state-of-the-art infrastructural facilities, incorporating a stronger focus on development training and nutrition. The aim is to develop them to be footballers, and not just players, by stressing team training {which comprise high level players} thereby giving them a holistic competitive environment, to develop core verticals that are needed to excel. Tier II will run as a paid-for model.

Tier III refers to an academy, and I use that term loosely. This facility will be a residential program, comprising very select students, scouted again from Tier I and II. The focus here is on intense training, without losing sight of academia, imparting the art of nutrition, physiotherapy, football technical development and creating support infrastructure. Membership here is scholarship based, and dependent entirely on our scouting.

I have to disagree here with a fairly unanimous opinion of lack of infrastructure letting a sportsperson down. The quality and level of training given to a young athlete far supersedes the infrastructure, which should explain IOT’s commitment to a holistic, quality sports education.

How far has IOT managed to progress?

In just 9 months, we have 6 Tier-I centers in Delhi/NCR, 3 centers starting in Mumbai {out of which one will be a Tier II} come June, 2 in Chennai, and in August, 3 in Kerala. By the end of May, we hope to have a Tier-II model in Gurgaon. As for Tier III, 70% of work is complete on a residential facility, headquartered in Punjab.

What are your biggest challenges in a country like ours?

One of our biggest challenges has been trying to convince parents of the benefits of sport. If nothing else, we believe it has to be incorporated in everyday life. Their {the parents} point of view borders on ambivalence. India is predisposed to perceiving sport as recreational. What they don’t comprehend is its innate ability to impart life skills – leadership, team building, healthy competition and a sense of belonging to a team.

What are the talent trends across the nation, taking into consideration your interaction with children from all walks of life?

As of now, we see polarizing trends. Urban kids, by virtue of their exposure, better nourishment and resources, come with an advantage. Rural kids, having a lot more to lose, exhibit a higher level of dedication and focus. The challenge lies in bridging the gap. Currently either an athlete has nothing to lose, or too much to lose. As opportunities arise, we anticipate a higher level of participation from the middle classes. No sport will be popular until it is accessible to the middle classes. As for female participation, it continues to be next to nothing, since there is no structure that will allow them to play competitively in the larger scheme of things.

Future plans for IOT?

IOT comes armed with commercial and developmental objectives, essentially developing a sustainable model to ensure survival, so we can make a difference to the development and quality of sport across the nation.

To find out more about India on Track click here, and follow them for regular updates here.

To know more about Arsenal Soccer Schools, click here.

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