February 2019 | 967 words | 4-min read
More than eighty years back, the Tata group made a specific commitment to backing sports and sportspeople in an India where natives rarely got an opportunity to showcase their skills. The setting up of the Tata Sports Club in 1937 would prove to be boon for generations of budding and established talent employed across the Tata group.
It was customary in India’s early past-independence years for the big companies of the group, Tata Steel, Tata Power, Tata Motors and Indian Hotels among them, to employ emerging sporting talent and to provide a stage where they could display their ability and maximise their potential. Tata Sports Club supplemented such backing by putting together squads that went on to dominate their respective sports on the national stage.
Tata Sports Club’s hockey team flourished in the fertile sporting environment that the group created. In 1951, the team triumphed in the Hockey League Cup, the Bombay Provincial Hockey Cup, the Gold Cup and the Aga Khan Cup. Several members of the consistently powerful Bombay team competing in the national championships were from the Club
The Club’s football team were equally well-established, winning numerous honours in tournaments like the Durand Cup, the IFA Shield, the Rovers Cup and the Harwood League. Tata Sports Club was equally outstanding in cricket, with stars such as Nari Contractor, Dilip Vengsarkar, Ravi Shastri, Sandeep Patil and Saurav Ganguly.
The contribution the Club made to the cause of Indian sport was best articulated by the famous journalist and broadcaster AFS ‘Bobby’ Talyarkhan: “With the founding of the Tata Sports Club, there was fused into Indian sports something new, something which opened out a vast field for the enrichment of sporting talent in this country… Today, do where you will in India, when say Tata, you also say sport.”
Among the many cricketers who turned out for Tata Sports Club are Ravi Shastri, Dilip Vengsarkar, Nari Contractor, Sandeep Patil and Saurav Ganguly. Milind Rege, a former Tata Steel employee, represented the formidable Bombay side in Ranji Trophy during 1967-68.
The Founders and Sport
Sir Dorab Tata, the son of the founder Jamsetji Tata, discovered his love for sports during his time as a student in England. At Cambridge, he distinguished himself at cricket and football, played tennis for his college, became an expert rower and won several sprint events. Later in life, he became a patron and supporter of the Indian Olympic Association. India owed, to a large extent, its participation in the 1920 Antwerp Olympics to Dorab Tata. He also financed the Indian contingent that went to the Paris Olympiad of 1924.
His wife, Meherbai Tata, won tennis tournaments held in Bombay and other places and remained a fan of the sport all her life.
Jamsetji Tata was a keen sports enthusiast. It was Jamsetji’s belief in sports as a force for good that seeded the Tata culture of supporting different games and the athletes who excelled in them. While Jamshedpur was being built, he wrote to his sons Dorab Tata and Ratan Tata and asked them to ensure adequate sports facilities for the benefit of its residents.
JRD Tata was president of Tata Sports Club for more than 40 years. Naturally inclined towards sports — he was more than familiar, as a participant, with football, aquatics, and weightlifting — JRD Tata did much for sports at Tata and in India.
A multifaceted Tata leader, Naval Tata proved his mettle as a sports administrator during an outstanding stint as president of the Indian Hockey Federation from 1946 to 1961, the glory years for India in the game, particularly at the Olympics. He was the first president of the All India Council for Sports and also served as vice chairman of the International Hockey Federation, the game’s governing body, for more than a decade.
Hockey, Football, Athletics and More
Leo Pinto, the legendary goalkeeper who helped India win gold in the 1948 London Olympics, was of the many big names who turned out for a dominant Tata Sports Club hockey team.
Midfielder Surendra Kumar played with distinction for the club’s football team at a time when it won honours galore; the elegant middle-distance runner Edward Sequeira lorded it over the 800m and 1,500m races in India from 1963 to 1973, setting records and representing the country in the Asiad, the Commonwealth Games and the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Bahadur Singh topped in the throwing events at the national level for many years and won a medal at the Asian Games.
Pictures courtesy Tata Central Archives
The image at the top features former chairman JRD Tata enjoying a cycle race with Tata Steel colleagues.