MUMBAI: EVEN though he retired in 2013, Geet Sethi continues to attract a fair amount of interest in Indian cue sports. There was palpable excitement as the nine-time world champion competed at the 2019 Masters National Snooker Championship in Mumbai on Sunday. Despite playing the World Billiards Championships last year, the 58-year-old ruled out a comeback and said he now plays strictly for “social reasons.”
Outside of cue sports, Sethi’s starkest contribution to Indian sport has been co-founding Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), an initiative that has become a template for corporates interested in investing in sport.
“We launched OGQ in 2001, the first round of funding was in 2007. First five years was just meeting people, talking to them and not getting anything,” he recalls on the sidelines of the snooker tournament at suburban Mumbai’s MIG Club.
“We started operations truly only in 2007. Through OGQ we showed that we can work with governments and we can work with federations and we have to work together. Really, what we do is a very small part of the overall funding. More than 90% of the funding is being done by the government or the federations. “There are some things that require speedy decision making, which requires a lot of research, that’s where we come in. This is our core competency. We know that (research) is required, we know that the support given to the athlete is required at that particular time, not six months later or not two months earlier. The biggest contribution has been show that private and public bodies can work together for the benefit of the athlete.”
Having won his first major title, in billiards, in 1982, Sethi has been part of India’s journey from an underdog to a sporting crouching tiger. The focus on fitness has transformed the Indian sporting landscape, and Sethi has seen it first hand.
“The first person who actually focussed on physical fitness and who benefitted from realizing that he wasn’t physically fit enough was Prakash Padukone,” he says of one of the OGQ co-founders. “He actually saw the Indonesians train and said I am not training hard enough. He started a regimen that finally saw him win the All England title. Gopichand took it to another level. And today I think the achievements of Indian badminton are basically because of that realization.
“Otherwise Indian athletes were cocooned. They would think we are training very hard. What is very hard? You are training very hard according to your standards, not by the world standards. And today we see it filtering in other sports, including cricket. Even Dhanraj Pillay was incredibly fit. So you have these individuals, in various sports, who paved the way.”
Sethi believes it will take a just one great success tale in snooker to pave the way for the rest. “Aditya (Mehta) has done well, spent time there,” Sethi says of the only India currently plying his trade on the pro circuit in England. “But we haven’t got the maverick who’s gone there and won a tournament, gone there and made the top-16. You need one to do that and that will give others the belief.”