When the Indian Premier League took world cricket by storm back in its inaugural season in 2007, much of the country expected this domestic competition to monopolize Indian sports for the next decade. This it did do, and it grew from strength to strength. It is 10 seasons old, and boasts of the biggest talents in cricket hobnobbing with upcoming local players.
But with the world’s eyes on India, it also meant that other sports authorities and bodies took a leaf from the cricket book in order to create an alternate culture of sporting events. More or less the same models have been used to promote other top sports events in India – covering oft-ignored national sports like football, hockey, Kabaddi and badminton. There has been an explosion of these domestic competitions on a large scale. And there has been space for all kinds of sports, and not just cricket, with a dedicated fan base evolving with every year.
Here are the top 5 Indian sports competitions – other than the IPL – that have mushroomed up over the last decade:
Indian Super League (ISL)
Perhaps the most difficult-to-pull-off and unlikely success has been that of India’s latest football league. It is no European premier league, or not even as traditional as the domestic I-League, but there has been a massive response to the Indian Super League. Whether it is retired Brazilian and Spanish superstars coaching or playing for these teams, or the generous investment of long-term resources, this competition has captured imaginations in a country still waiting to be taken seriously as a football power. After three seasons of the ISL – fittingly, Atletico de Kolkata has won two of them – the fourth season begins in November. This time, there will be 10 teams participating instead of the usual 8, with two-time I-League champion Bengaluru FC and Jamshedpur announced as the newest entrants. And the ISL will last for almost half a year – 5 months compared to the usual 3. Slowly but surely, football has begun to dominate the Indian year.
Premier Badminton League
The newly rechristened Indian Badminton League has completed just three seasons since its inaugural event in 2013, but has heated up because of its competitive 2017 edition and India’s keen and renewed interest in the sport. The franchise event is now set to start its fourth next year. It has been an explosive few years for India’s international stars – namely PV Sindhu (silver medalist at the Olympics and World Championships), Saina Nehwal (bronze at the Worlds after a comeback from injury) as well as the resurgence of Srikanth Kidambi (Indonesian and Australian Open Super Series titles) and Sai Praneeth (Singapore Super Series title). Six teams are currently competing – Delhi Acers, Awadhe Warriors, Mumbai Rockets, Hyderabad Hunters, Bengaluru Blasters and Chennai Smashers – with the Smashers the latest defending champions. PV Sindhu’s Smashers defeated Nehwal’s Warriors in the semifinals this year, with Sindhu pulling off a straight sets win over her senior contemporary. Back in 2013, Nehwal was the player on a hot streak, defeating a younger Sindhu twice in the competition – once in the finals – and taking her Hyderabad Hotshots team to the inaugural title of the franchise-based league.
Hckey Indian League (HIL)
There will be no 2018 edition, but the first five seasons of the country’s biggest domestic hockey league has been met with much fanfare. It is the most popular professional league in the sport right now, but will take a break next year because of its dates clashing with the Indoor World Cup. Approved by the International Hockey Federation unlike its predecessor World Series Hockey, the league started with five teams in 2013, and has now had six teams competing in the last four seasons – Delhi Waveriders, Punjab Warriors, Uttar Pradesh Wizards, Ranchi Rays (formerly Ranchi Rhinos), Dabang Mumbai (formerly Mumbai Magicians) and Kalinga Lancers. The Lancers are the defending champions, after they defeated League leaders Dabang Mumbai 4-1 in February’s final in Chandigarh. The upside of this league: India won the Junior World Cup in 2016, and the Senior team is now ranked 6th in the world.
Pro Kabaddi League
This is arguably the biggest of the franchise-based sports events right now, with the three-month long competition reaching the roots and insides of a country enthralled by its most traditional sport. It helps that India are perpetually World Champions, but the fact that 2016 had two Pro Kabaddi seasons instead of one proves that there is a sustained interest and financial viability in this sport. The fifth season of the Pro Kabaddi League is currently underway – with the maximum amount of teams participating (12) since its inception in 2014. The Patna Pirates are defending champions (won both titles in 2016) and current league leaders of the six-team Zone B standings narrowly ahead of Bengal Warriors. Two of the four new teams are heading the Zone A standings, with Gujarat Fortune Giants currently first and Haryana Steelers close on their heels.
Pro Westling League (PWL)
There have been only two seasons of the most popular Wrestling franchise in the world – but the second edition in early 2017 ended with such a bang that there seems to be a bright future for the league. The Haryana Hammers have lost in both their finals so far, and it was the Punjab Royals who produced a dramatic comeback to win the tie 5-4 after Jitendra defeated Sumit Sehrawat in the men’s 74 kg. category. All matches were held at the KD Jadhav Indoor stadium in Delhi. The Revanta Mumbai Garuda (now renamed Mumbai Maharathis) won the inaugural edition in 2015.
Other notable Sports Leagues:
The International Premier Tennis League (three seasons old), Premier Futsal (second season underway – with Ronaldinho leading the charge for Delhi Dragons, and Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes leading Mumbai Warriors and Bengaluru Royals).