The Narendra Modi Stadium in the Sardar Ballavbhai Patel Sports Enclave in Motera in Ahmedabad, now the World’s largest cricket stadium in terms of capacity, was inaugurated today by President Ram Nath Kovind. The stadium is a part of the newly built Sardar Patel Sports Enclave with other sporting facilities including badminton, tennis courts, swimming pools hockey etc. The awe-inspiring structure with a capacity of almost 1,10,000 spectators resulted in an outpour of pride from Indians on social media. However, not all reactions were positive, as critics of PM Modi took a shot at the PM for allegedly ‘naming’ the stadium after himself and termed the move ‘narcissistic’.
“This stadium was the dream of the prime minister and he had during his stint as chief minister here floated the idea of building the world’s largest stadium,” the Home Minister Amit Shah said. According to the Vice President of the Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) in 2009, PM Modi, then Chief Minister of Gujarat and President of GCA, pushed for the increase in seating capacity after hearing about the capacity of the MCG in Melbourne, now the second-largest cricket ground in the world. How
Even opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi joined the fray, implying that the stadium’s name and the name of its pavilions is a result of some corrupt nexus. Coincidently, two pavilions in the stadium are named after Reliance and Adani, which was perfect for Rahul Gandhi to repeat his ‘hum to hamare do’ jibe. As the varying reactions came out throughout the day, the outrage and the counter-outrage became a political issue. Therefore, it would serve us well, to recount the tradition of naming cricket stadiums in India, and adjudicate for ourselves whether the naming of Narendra Modi stadium fits the established pattern.
Cricket Stadium names in India
The tradition of naming cricket stadiums in India to this date revolves around politicians and administrators, and quite rarely the player. The oldest cricket stadium in India, the Eden Gardens Cricket Stadium in Kolkata, first opened in 1864. It takes its name from the adjacent Eden Gardens, named after the Eden sisters of the then Governor-General of India, Lord Auckland. The Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai takes its name after Lord Brabourne, the then Governor of the Bombay Presidency, who laid the foundation stone for the stadium in 1936. The aforementioned examples are simply to point out the historical tradition behind India’s practice of naming stadiums, which would continue in the post-independence period.
The Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru, the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai; and the PCA I.S. Bindra Stadium in Mohali, are all named after cricket administrators who were the Presidents of their respective cricket associations. This is a standard and common practice in Indian cricket, with a well-established tradition that can be traced back to before independence. It was along the lines of these established traditions that the Feroze Shah Kotla Ground became the Arun Jaitley Stadium in 2019 in the honor of the former Delhi and District Cricket Association President and Union Minister, Arun Jaitley. Therefore, a name-change of the newly reconstructed cricket stadium to Narendra Modi Stadium is not something shocking or unprecedented. In fact, the renaming of the cricket stadium to Narendra Modi Stadium is actually more in line with the tradition of naming cricket stadiums in India, with PM Modi being the former President of the GCA.
The Ambani-Adani Non-Scandal
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter, pointing out the names of the newly built stadium and its pavilions, and implying some sort of a larger corrupt nexus between all the parties. This sentiment was echoed by many of the PM’s detractors and snowballed into a political talking point. However, a sober analysis of the situation reveals that there is no nefarious conspiracy at play here.
The pavilions are named after Reliance and Adani not because of any alleged closeness of the two business groups with PM Modi. It is actually the result of a commercial decision by GCA and BCCI. Because, the Pavilions are sponsored by the two companies, and in return, they have won the right to get the pavilions named after them. Like other things in sports like jerseys and in-stadium advertisement, bids are also invited for sponsoring stands and pavilions, and companies participate in such bids.
According to Mr. Dhanraj Nathwani, the Vice President of the GCA, there is simply no controversy regarding this situation. “Pavilions are named based on sponsorship received. Reliance has sponsored the North Pavilion, while Adani has retained their association with GCA by sponsoring the South pavilion,” said Mr. Nathwani. It may be noted that the Adani group was already a sponsor of the South Pavilion at the old Motera Cricket Stadium for years, even under Congress-controlled GCA. After the stadium was rebuilt, Reliance had bought the right to sponsor the North Pavilion. In the earlier structure, the North Pavilion was known as GMDC Pavilion, as the Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation had sponsored in at that time.
The idea of sponsorships naming stadiums or pavilions might seem relatively new in India, but it is an accepted practice globally. The idea can be traced back to Baseball in America, where in 1912, the baseball team Boston Red Sox renamed their stadium to Fenway Park, in order to promote the real estate company, Fenway Realty. More recent examples include the Emirates Stadium for Arsenal Football Club, the Etihad for Manchester City and the Allianz Arena for German football giants Bayern Munich. Therefore, it is no surprise that attractive sponsorships with high contributions are going to become the norm even in India moving forward. These contributions can later be used to nurture and develop young talent.
The summation of the bogus outrage over the name of the Narendra Modi stadium is simple. It was quite simply a knee-jerk reaction to witnessing the names of Modi, Reliance and Adani in tandem. A sober and collected analysis of the history of naming cricket stadiums in India, in consonance with perusing the global trends of increasing sponsorship involvement in sports, will reveal that there is no absolutely nothing to be up in arms about either the name of the Narendra Modi Stadium, or its pavilions.