"It's a promising start to a phase where Bollywood and sports - two of the most loved fields - have come together for the promotion of games."
By Radhika Bhirani

New Delhi, June 19 - At last, they've moved beyond cricket! From Amitabh Bachchan and Suneil Shetty to John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan, Bollywood stars are lending their star power to games like football, shooting and kabaddi to give these neglected sports much needed patronage.

They are either promoting a game they love or buying franchises in different sporting leagues or even bringing leagues to the country. The ways are many, but the aim is one - to popularise a sporting culture.

For John, it's football, football everywhere.

The actor-producer, who has been roped in as the India brand ambassador of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, recently bought the Guwahati franchise of the Indian Super League (ISL). His home production 1911 will see him reprise late Indian footballer Sibdas Bhaduri on the big screen.

He says these are great times when celebrities are getting together to promote sports.

It's a great time. I think any kind of eyeballs for a sport is a welcome change. We're very happy that people are promoting sport - be it kabaddi, football, badminton or hockey, golf and boxing. I wish to promote so much more, John told IANS.

The ISL also has teams owned by Ranbir Kapoor and Salman Khan. While Ranbir and Bimal Parekh, a chartered accountant, who manages celebrities like Aamir Khan and Katrina Kaif, have the Mumbai franchise, Salman has teamed up with Kapil Wadhawan and Dheeraj Wadhawan of the Wadhawan Group to get the Pune team in the eight-team inaugural professional football league.

An avid football fan, Ranbir had earlier said: As a partner in the Indian Super League, I am looking forward to translating my passion into contributing to the growth of the sport.

While megastar Amitabh Bachchan is himself soaking in the joys of watching the FIFA World Cup matches, he has decided to aid the training of two women shooters - Ayonika Paul and Pooja Ghatkar.

His son Abhishek Bachchan, in fact, has gone ahead and acquired the Jaipur franchise of Pro-Kabaddi, a professional kabaddi league. His team is called Jaipur Pink Panthers, while the Mumbai franchise has been purchased by founder and former CEO of UTV Group Ronnie Screwvala.

Then, superstar rapper Yo Yo Honey Singh, who started Global Fighting Championship (GFC), a boxing league in Dubai, has plans to bring the event to India.

Just as I have broken the monopoly of film music as being synonymous with popular music in our country, I want to prove that cricket is not the only glamorous sport, Honey Singh was recently quoted as saying.

Bollywood's very own 'khiladi' Akshay Kumar hosts an annual Akshay Kumar Kudo Tournament, a karate championship; while in cricket, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has names like Shah Rukh Khan, Juhi Chawla, Shilpa Shetty and Preity Zinta associated with it.

Sports enthusiast Suniel Shetty has in the past promoted hockey and he continues to encourage people to back different games.

Just recently, he said: I believe if football, hockey and cricket...all the sports are given a boost, then it can create an alternate career option for children.

Sanjay Dutt promoted boxing and, together with businessman Raj Kundra, had launched the Super Fight League in 2012.

It's a promising start to a phase where Bollywood and sports - two of the most loved fields - have come together for the promotion of games.

(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at [email protected])


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