Pursuing a sport is fine but what job are you doing?

Anshul Kothari : Program Manager for Operations at Pine Labs

By Anshul Kothari | February 23, 2022

Anshul is the Program Manager for Operations at Pine Labs.

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"All or Nothing" - that's what it is for most athletes in India pursuing Olympic sports. In India, professional sport is a very high-risk option where every failure puts careers to a halt as yearly funding for athletes is directly dependent on medals. The elite sport requires years of hard work and dedication with a very slim chance of success. Also, careers in sport can end abruptly due to injury.

In the sport of swimming, the winning margins are as small as 0.01 seconds which can decide whether one is selected/not selected for the Indian team. This further sets off a domino effect as future funding is decided on basis of the above selection, which then gives access to more resources and increases the probability of success.

During the majority of my sporting career, despite representing India at Commonwealth Games (2010) and 3 Asian Games (2010, 2014, 2018) and being a finalist at these Games as well, I am still asked by a lot of people the condescending question "what job are you doing?"

It is bizarre to explain to people that representing your country in the sport for 10 years is not a part-time activity. Most athletes who are representing the country train 6-7 hours/day, 6 days/week for 50 weeks/year without any breaks, even during festivals due to the gruelling competition schedules.

In India, we lag behind in Olympic sports due to a lot of reasons like sub-standard infrastructure, lack of funding, good coaching, societal stigma, limited exit options, etc. I have personally experienced improvements in infrastructure and coaching in the last decade, although a lot of work still needs to be done to match the sporting prowess of developed nations.

However, the exit options post sport career in India are limited as only PSUs and Armed Forces regularly create job opportunities where athletes are allowed to play till they can and post-retirement continue with normal jobs with the same PSUs.

Additionally, these PSU jobs are given only to players who have consistently won medals at the international and national level, which means a large fraction of people who pursue sports don't really get these jobs.

In India, one of the fundamental reasons why young athletes quit the sport after high school/college is that there are barely any exit options available. As a parent, it is still a nightmare if your kid wants to pursue the full-time sport in India. Most people pursuing sport come from not so rich financial backgrounds and thus, the pressure to sustain livelihood often becomes more than the pressure of sport itself.

This is in stark contrast to the developed nations like the USA, Australia, the UK where athletes receive huge support from corporate companies both in terms of funding for sport and hiring for jobs. People with sports backgrounds are hired by private companies without any bias towards lack of corporate experience because companies value the qualities such as leadership, discipline, resilience, grit, etc. which athletes bring on board.

Ultimately, both sports and businesses have a similarity which is to achieve high performance in what they do. Thus, hiring athletes creates a win-win situation for both athletes and companies.

It is good to see that now in India as well, the private sector has started to increase their support to non-cricket sports beyond the nominal CSR activities, with Pine Labs being a torchbearer as far as hiring retired athletes is concerned.

Pine Labs has started a great initiative Second Innings which has many interesting opportunities for athletes who are looking forward to starting a new career after sport.

Such Initiatives will boost the sports ecosystem in India. If more private companies carry out such hiring initiatives, young athletes and their parents will have one less thing to worry about while pursuing sport.

Personally speaking, it has been an amazing journey so far while working at Pine Labs. Every day there is lot to do and lot to learn from my peers. My entire team has been quite supportive from Day 1 and have helped to get a quick grasp of the business and the processes.

As an athlete, I am always in pursuit of how I can get better every day or what more can I improve, and this is exactly the environment at Pine Labs.