Nita Ambani’s address at Sports Business Summit in London

Nita Ambani, owner of the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Mumbai Indians, on October 8, addressed the Sports Business Summit in London, which is part of Leaders’ Week London 2019 event. She is also the Founder and Chairperson of Reliance Foundation and a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Here’s a full transcript of Ambani’s address:

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen friends — Namaskar.

A very good afternoon and warm greeting to each and every one of you. It is an honour for me as an Indian and as woman to deliver a keynote address before this global gathering of leaders in sport.

I come from the land of Buddha, Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. I represent the dreams, hope and aspirations of a billion Indian. India is home to one-sixth of humanity, it is the youngest country in the world, a resurgent nation of 1.3 billion people of which 600 million are under the age of 25. If the youth of India were a country by themselves they would be the third largest country in the world. India is truly at a point of inflection, a country whose time has come.

India is scaling new heights in all fields including and especially sports. Friends, I would like to thank the organisers of this summit for inviting me to share my thought and experiences with this august gathering. They have graciously referred to me as the First Lady of Indian Sport.

My presence here is an honour for all woman of India and it is my mission to empower and enable every woman in India. I am a big believer in the phenomenal power of women, I believe that when women lean on women incredible things happen. I believe women can excel not only in playing sport but also in promoting sport at national and international levels.

Today, women in India are breaking the glass ceiling in more and more areas of human endeavour. Indeed women all over the world are doing so in sport and science, in boardrooms and courtrooms, in Bollywood and Hollywood, in politics and philanthropy, in effect anywhere and everywhere.

Friends, through my work at Reliance Foundation, I have had the privilege of working closely with women and children. It is my firm belief that when children learn and play, communities grow and countries prosper. For the holistic development of a child’s personality there is only well proven formula just let them play a sport, any sport. Sport is a great teacher, it is a magical equalizer and in a young country like India the aspirations are so audacious, the adrenalin so high and appetite to achieve so strong that if you can just guide and steer our in the right direction, they will script the most stunning success stories the world has ever seen.

Friends, my own tryst with sport began at an age when most sport persons retire. I was 44 when sport changed my life, my perspective and my worldview. It all started with cricket and Mumbai Indians (MI) in 2009. It was the second season of IPL – The Premier League and our team was at the bottom of the table. I had no knowledge of cricket but I flew to South Africa to motivate and be with the team when they were down and out. From those first meetings with the teams, learning the nitty-gritties of cricket from the legends of the game to this day ten years later when MI is the most valued team in India with four IPL titles. My journey has been incredible. Through this magical journey, I experienced for myself that cricket is truly a religion in India.

While the British gave us cricket, I can say without any fear of being contradicted that the record for scoring the highest number of runs in test cricket and in ODIs stands in the name of one Indian – Sachin Tendulkar. I am proud to say that Sachin was the captain and has been the mentor of Mumbai Indians since inception. What MI has taught me is this – Sport does not differentiate, it knows no race or religion, talent can come from anywhere and reach the pinnacle of success.

I would like to share with you the transformational journey of a young boy who was discovered by Mumbai Indians (MI) from a small town of India.

Today, Bumrah is an inspiration to countless young boys and girls. In the last ten years MI have discovered several young talents like Hardik Pandya, Krunal Pandya and so many more, I look forward to the day when every young boy and girl from remotest parts of the country can dare to dream and make it big.

Friends, women’s empowerment through sport is one of the silent revolutions taking place all over the world. Like most sports traditionally cricket has also been a bastion of men, even Lords the iconic home of cricket welcomed women to its pavilion only in 1999 and offered full membership to women only last year.

In a tradition bound society like India, the change has been even more dramatic. Ten years ago when IPL started cricket in India was watched largely by men. Over the last ten years we have seen a new diversity for fan base with cricket. Indeed for all sports in India, today female fan following for IPL is almost equal to male following and this dynamic shift has just not been with the fans. India’s women cricket team is now ranked number two in the world followed by England.

Friends, one of the most heartwarming initiatives of Reliance Foundation and MI is ‘Education and Sports for All Programme’. It combines the power and pull of sports and education especially for children who are under privileged and differently abled. Under ESA initiative every year we bring 21000 of this children to watch their favourite MI team play. For all of them this is their first ever visit to the stadium to watch a live match. It is a day that gives them immense joy and hope. It is really gratifying to watch this children interact with their sporting heroes. Not only do this children go home with stars in their eyes but also with the belief that they too can dream and achieve. Let us experience the magic of ESA.

Education and Sports for All (ESA) is truly the soul of MI.

Friends, success in one field encourages success in many fields that is the eternal law of life. The popularity of IPL has led to the emergence of many more professional leagues in India like hockey, badminton, volleyball, basketball, wrestling, kabbadi and of course football. As a teacher and as a mother, I know that children in our school would wake up in the middle of the night to watch the EPL, I saw my own son Akash did that too. That is when I realised the younger generation had a huge interest in and love for football and I saw there was a big opportunity in India for this beautiful game. This motivated me to launch the Indian Super League for football in 2014. I am pleased to share that in just five years ISL has immerged as the third most watched league in India.

ISL viewership for 2018-19 on television alone was 168 million and digital viewership was over 12 million. Since the inception of ISL, the Indian National Team’s FIFA ranking has shot up from 173 to 96. It is now my dream to see India perform at the pinnacle of global football and qualify for the FIFA World Cup. This calls for the development of a vibrant footballing ecosystem in the country – that is the vision of ISL.

Our grassroots programme in football has so far reached out to over 1.5 million children. Our huge sports programme for schools and colleges has reached out to 9 million children. The Reliance Foundation Junior NBA Prgramme has reached out 11 million children. Overall, across all sports, Reliance Foundation has reached out to over 21.5 million children across the country.

Ten years ago it would have been unthinkable for an Indian family to see football as a viable career option for their children. Young Indian boys and girls are all over the Silicon Valley but they are missing on the pinnacles of international sports……

Friends, ten years ago my husband Mukesh Ambani and I started the Reliance foundation to empower all Indians especially women and children. We have had the privilege of touching the lives of 34 million people through our work in diverse areas in the remotest villages and towns of India.

Every single life that we have touched has made us believe even more firmly in the power of our youth.

Swami Vivekananda the great Indian philosopher had said make your body strong, play games, play football, you will be nearer to god through football than through the study of the Bhagavad Gita. Now India is discovering our great traditional wisdom in many fields including sports.

No nation in the world can emerge as a great sport. Jothi.S