Paris: MS Dhoni had a reason to be pleased this Sunday because of his team's performance... not in cricket but in the World Superbikes championship. British rider Dan Linfoot of the MSD R-N team finished a remarkable 3rd in the Supersport category giving the team its first podium finish in only its sixth race, at the Magny Cours circuit in France.
Speaking exclusively to Firstpost after the race, Arun Pandey, the team’s Chariman & Managing Director, said that the team had never expected to finish third in only their sixth race.
“For us it was important that our riders ended the season in the top 10. A podium result is an amazing achievement. In the last race, Dan had finished seventh, now he has finished third. This result is a big thing for Indian sports,” he said.
With the advent of Formula One in India, motorsport has witnessed a surge in popularity in India. Pandey, however, maintains that they are currently focused only on the Superbikes category.
“For the time being, we are not focusing on any other form of motorsport. India is the biggest market for two wheelers and we feel that super bikes will be successful in India. Dhoni, himself, is fond of bikes,” he said.
Pandey added that Superbikes will gain more popularity in India from next year onwards as the Buddh International Circuit at Noida will be hosting a Superbikes round from 2013.
“Dhoni’s team will help it become popular in India. That’s why we are participating in Europe. The amount of appreciation we are getting from people and corporate houses in India is incredible. Super bikes will be one of the biggest sports in India in the future. Almost everyone can relate to this sport as most of us are passionate about bikes. Since Superbikes will be coming to India from next year, it will get bigger in India.”
And right now in India, no one’s bigger than Dhoni. So what better way to promote a sport?
In a recent latest list of world’s 100 richest sportspersons, released by the Forbes magazine, Dhoni even pipped the likes of Usain Bolt, Novak Djokovic and teammate Sachin Tendulkar.
According to the list, Dhoni is ranked 31st, which is way ahead of Djokovic (62nd), Bolt (63rd) and Tendulkar (78th). Star footballers Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres are also behind Dhoni in the latest list.
Of his total earnings of 26.5 million, Dhoni earns 23m through endorsements – even the world’s most popular footballer Lionel Messi earns only $19 million through endorsements.
Pandey’s vision, which generally is pretty similar to Dhoni’s, however, extends beyond Superbikes. His firm, Rhiti Sports Management company, recently created waves after signing a Rs 40 crore deal with badminton star Saina Nehwal.
“Our endeavour is to promote other sports in India. I am trying to give something back to sports personalities from India who have achieved a lot in their lives. I realised that sports other than cricket are not marketed very well. What Saina has achieved, and that too at such a young age, is truly remarkable. She has won medals at Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Asiad as well as other prestigious badminton events,” he said.
Sources have also revealed that Rhiti Sports is planning to provide a platform for budding youngsters to bring glory to the country at the Olympics – very much like Olympic Gold Quest.
Not content with just cricket or other major sports, Rhiti Sports is trying to develop other sports and do things at the grassroots level. Indian football is already in his sights as well. There have been some reports of Rhiti Sports trying to work out a deal with the All-India Football Federation as well.
But Dhoni and Rhiti aren’t done by a long shot.
According to the Rhiti Sports website, ‘Sportsfit by MSD is India’s Youngest and most Ambitious Fitness Brand.’ And the plans are ambitious indeed. SportsFit World Pvt Ltd plans to open around 200 fitness centres using an investment of around Rs 2,000 crore in the next five years. The company will also set up shop overseas. Their idea is to change the way Indians look at fitness.
And then there is the MS Dhoni Charitable Foundation that endeavours to use the power of sports and in particular, cricket, to bring together the best talent available in the country and help them develop their skills to maybe one day live their dream of playing for the nation.
The foundation organises cricket tournaments across 11 cities around India, thereby giving an opportunity to the local raw talent to showcase their abilities.
When asked as to how is it to be managing Dhoni, India’s biggest sports star, Pandey said that despite being the most sought after brand ambassador, Dhoni is very humble.
“It becomes very easy for me to take any decision, whether the project is big or small. He enthusiastically supports initiatives for promoting other sports as well. I consider myself lucky and privileged to be managing MS Dhoni,” he said.
In his own way, he is redefining what it means to be a big sports star in India. He is doing things that few other cricketers have attempted and that also means that the demands on his time are great. Dhoni has always said that he is someone who likes to live in the present but this is clearly a case of planning for the future.
Perhaps he should do the same for his cricket career as well.