By Kriti Gupta
Virat Kohli is the only Indian athlete to feature on Forbes’ annual list of the world’s 100 highest-paid athletes. Standing at the 89th position, the Indian cricket team captain has earned $22 million over the past 12 months – $3 million through salary and winnings and the remaining amount through brand endorsements and sponsorship. The list is topped by the Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo for the second time in a row, with a total pay package of $93 million. He is followed by the American basketball player LeBron James and Lionel Messi.
The phenomenon that is Virat Kohli
From an iconic cricket player to a successful brand name, Virat Kohli has proved his mettle time and again through his resilience and high- spirited attitude, both on and off the pitch. This is evident from the fact that the 28-year-old earned a whopping $19 million through brand endorsements alone over the last year. In March this year, the captain upped his endorsement fee to ₹5 crore per day for new contracts, putting him in the league of international sports stars. He also became the first Indian sportsperson to sign an eight-year ₹110 crore endorsement deal with Puma, which put him alongside Usain Bolt in a lucrative run for the German brand.
Given that the Indian fans have a volatile relationship with cricketers, endorsements with the men in blue seems a risky proposition for many advertisers. However, Kohli has been evading this taboo and is already the face of nearly 18 brands. From Audi, Gionee smartphones and Tissot watches to investments in tech start-ups like Sports Convo, he has already been placed in the ilk of Sachin Tendulkar.
Troubling times for other sports
While Kohli’s name on the list is a matter of great importance, it important to question the fate of other successful India sportspersons. We are living in a time when movies made on traditional sports like Dangal are witnessing groundbreaking success, even in China. Sania Mirza, Saina Nehwal, Dipa Karmakar, P.V Sindhu are bringing laurels to the country, and setting examples of women empowerment. Where are we lacking when it comes to sports other than cricket?
Cricket continues to attract the attention of thousands of Indians, who watch the matches at home or cheer their favourite team in the stadium. The lack of proper and well-equipped infrastructural facilities for sports like hockey, badminton and football acts as a potential barrier to progress. Games such as tennis and badminton require expensive gear which is rarely available for use at the professional level. Due to the popularity and the craze for cricket, alternative games have always experienced lower levels of interest. Inevitably, a career in baseball or gymnastics doesn’t seem very bright in a cricket driven economy.
The Forbes’s list of elite athletes includes players from 11 different categories of sports. Basketball dominates the list with 32 players, followed by baseball with 22 players, football with 15 and soccer with 9. However, India seldom gets a glimpse of any other sport than cricket.
Female athletes struggling to make a mark
Another important issue is the presence of only one woman in the top 100 list of athletes, once again, making the arena of sports ‘the den of men.’ Serena Williams, carrying a paycheck of $27 million, occupies the 51st spot and the lone woman sportsperson in the list. Maria Sharapova, who had been the highest-paid female athlete in the world for 11 straight years, missed the mark this time as her earnings plummeted due to inactivity in 2016 following suspension over a failed drug test.
While the annual list reeks of troubling gender inequality and sports exclusivity, Virat Kohli’s inclusion in the list could be either a boon or a bane depending on how we see it.
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