Why don’t we hear of IT men excelling in sports?

ARVIND SWAMINATHAN writes from Madras: Reading as I do Star of Mysore on the web every evening over kodu bale and filter coffee, I came across the following news item buried on its sports page today.

SPI employee represents India

Mysore, Dec. 18: R. Jayaram, working for IT major SPI’s BPO, represented India in volleyball for WOVD World Cup under the physically handicapped category. The tournament was held in Cambodia recently and ten countries participated in it. The Indian team was placed fifth in the tournament.

Jayaram had earlier represented Karnataka in volleyball six times. He also represented India in 9th Pacific Games held in Malaysia last year. Jayaram had also played for district zonal and State level tournament under normal category.

SPI, for the uninitiated is Software Paradigms International, the software services and outsourcing company set up by Atlanta-based Siddhartha Mookerji, the son of former CFTRI deputy director K.K. Mookerji.

Siddhartha, an alumnus of BITS Pilani and London School of Economics, set up SPI in the city of his birth in 1997, long before Mysore became a hot investment destination. And long before other IT companies began eyeing Mysore, if not its real estate.

The news item immediately set me thinking: why don’t the names of sportsmen and sportswomen of other IT, ITES, BPO, KPO, any other-PO companies dot the sports pages more often?

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Back when our family lived in Mysore, albeit in socialist India, some of our bestknown companies and institutions were also known for things other than what they manufactured or did.

Ideal Jawa made great motorcycles, of course, but what a superb cricket team they had: a team comprising Sanjeeva Rao, S. Vijayaprakash and V. Prabhakar which I once saw thump a State Bank of India team comprising Gundappa Viswanath, Syed Kirmani and Roger Binny at Maharaja’s College grounds.

K.R. Mills made fabrics, but it had a top-notch football team. BEML moved the earth but it also had a top cricket team (thank you P. Ashok, S. Ramachandra), and a fine basketball team (Ramakanth). CFTRI itself had an excellent table tennis team (Krishna Prasad), and Mysore’s greatest fast bowler ever (sorry churumuri), K.R. Dinakar, besides fine quizzers and bridge players like K.M. Dastur.

My father, who was born and grew up in Bangalore, says it used to be the same scene with HAL and BEL and BEML, whose sports and recreation clubs were fixtures on the sports pages. Not to forget the nationalised banks like SBI, Syndicate Bank (B.S. Chandrashekhar, R. Sudhakar Rao, B. Vijayakrishna), and Canara Bank. The Railways and Services, too, have been magnificently benevolent employers.

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Reading about Jayaram of SPI, Mysore, playing volleyball in Cambodia is at once heartening and depressing. Heartening, because a local employee of an IT company set up by a local boy has done well. Depressing, because we do not see more such feats from players of our much-reviled IT companies.

Don’t get me wrong: this is not, repeat not, an attack on IT. Just an honest enquiry.

Why don’t our IT employees shine in sports? I don’t mean in those friendly industry tournaments in which beer-bellied bosses realise how unfit they are but the real tournaments. Why don’t we hear of somebody from the SWITCH companies (Satyam, Wipro, Infosys, TCS, Cognizant, HCL) make it to the national hockey or football or sprint or swimming teams?

Those who have been to their campus tell me that Infosys has a top-class cricket stadium in Mysore. Why don’t we hear of a tearaway Infoscion using the facility to knock on the doors of the Indian team instead of it being used by the company to show the world what a magnanimous donor it is to allow the Karnataka State Cricket Association to hold Ranji matches?

The answers are reasonably obvious.

a) In liberalised India, these companies are mostly, if not only bothered about the bottomline. They do their brand-building and image-building (which is what the names of companies on the sports pages achieves) in other ways, like building toilets, donating computers to schools, gifting gloves to traffic constables.

b) The IT companies view each employee as a “resource”. They bill by the hour. They pay employees to work for them, not play for them. Surely, they can’t tell a client “Sorry, the man concerned is at the ground” if something goes wrong in Germany?

c) Unlike making bikes or fabrics, writing code is a cerebral job. Playing sports, especially at the competitive level, is frowned upon by peers, colleagues and co-nerds. After all, how many Microsoft chess players or Google athletes have we heard of?

d) Maybe, the working culture of IT companies and IT employees, and the long hours they keep, does not allow for them to practice or take part in tournaments. Maybe, in a culture that values individualism, the company health club is the only place to show off your skills, and only to yourself!

e) Also, perhaps, unlike the benevolent socialist employers, the strictly meritocratic IT companies (tell me another!) do not have a “sports quota” by which they give recruit ready-to-show-off sporting talent.

f) Plus, with most employees from different corners of the country, speaking different languages, there isn’t that much bonding that can take place on a sports field especially in an alien city.

But looking at some recent developments, like rising suicides and rising divorces among IT employees, and the social backlash that cities like Bangalore seem to be reserving for the IT types, it can be argued that the powerpoint pashas have missed an old socialist trick in using sport as a great cementing agent.

For one thing, playing a game for pleasure or profit will make the deskbound dudes healthier and more sportive (unlike the jerks who run away after injuring people in road accidents). And for another, it will bring the IT companies closer to the general public who so seem to hate the nose-in-the-air attitude of IT employees.

Above all, a Corporate Sports Responsibility (CSR) will show the world that the IT companies aren’t just bothered about their quarterly performances and that the employees aren’t just bothered about themselves and their fat salaries and flats and cars and pubs and girlfriends and foreign trips.

That they are in our midst for the long run, not to shoot and scoot.

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News