Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

The ultimate aim is to take pickleball to the Olympics: Arvind Prabhoo

The president of the International Pickleball Association and chairman of the Prabodhankar Thackeray Krida Sankul in Mumbai on his vision for the sport, starting a pickleball league on the lines of the IPL, and the need for people with deep pockets to promote it at the grassroots

Kunal Purandare
Published: Jul 21, 2023 08:47:06 AM IST
Updated: Jul 21, 2023 01:57:54 PM IST

The ultimate aim is to take pickleball to the Olympics: Arvind PrabhooArvind Prabhoo, President of the International Pickleball Association (IPA) and chairman of the Prabodhankar Thackeray Krida Sankul in Mumbai Image: Swapnil Sakhare

Q. What was your first impression about pickleball and why did you decide to promote it?
In 2017, when Sunil Valavalkar [All India Pickleball Association or AIPA’s founder-director] introduced me to the game, and I saw it, I realised it’s a game for the future. Indians are good at wrist games or any racquet games. Pickleball is also an easy game to adapt to. And it’s an addictive sport.
 
Q. What is AIPA and the international federation doing to spread the word?
We are doing a lot of promotional activities, especially at the grassroots level—camps, demos, talking to the right people. We are giving Valavalkar sir’s efforts a vision, structure and resources.
 
Q. What is your vision for the sport?
My viewpoint then [when I was first approached] was let’s do tournaments and let’s start having prize money. If someone, especially a villager, earns Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 from the game, it helps spread the word.

Currently, there are 84 countries where pickleball is being played. Now we have to take it to the Olympics. And there’s a lot to be done. If you see cricket, table tennis, badminton… their evolution took 70-80-100 years in India. Pickleball is a relatively new game. We can give it any direction we want and take it to a level which is next to cricket.
 
Cricket is too huge in India, but this can be next to cricket for the simple reason that there are about 20 million badminton, tennis and table tennis players in India. I just need to convert 10 percent of them. If I have 2 million players playing pickleball, I think we would have done it. It’s just going to go through the roof.  
 
Q. What about the finances? Are you looking at investors?
We are in over 80 countries, and I want to take the sport to another 80 nations. For that, I have created a $50,000 [over Rs40 lakh] fund. All this is self-funded; we are looking for investors. The Olympics is the ultimate aim. In India, if I need to spread the game, I need very deep pockets. And it has to be a corporate with a deep vision to promote it at the grassroots level. Every kid who comes needs to have a paddle in his hand.

Also read: From Mumbai to Goa, and Jharkhand to Kerala, the growing popularity of pickleball in India
 
Q. What do you think is the future of the sport?
It’s a novel game, and we can grow to the top. Plus, I have the administrative power to take the game to wherever I want to. What Jagmohan Dalmiya [former Board of Control for Cricket in India president and president of the International Cricket Council] did to cricket, the same opportunity has been presented to me by Sunil. Only the scale is different.  
 
Q. There are many sports leagues in India and globally. Are there plans to start one for pickleball?
We have plans to start a league similar to the Indian Premier League. The process is on. We’ll make an announcement in November. We’ll do a global league… it will be held worldwide. We need the commercial aspect to sustain the game. If the money doesn’t come into the game, you won’t get those kinds of players. Somewhere we have to show that yes, there is money in this game, and that it is good for you. Leagues are the flavour now. It’s not going to be a private league… every association of every country will be involved in it. So, one can play for the league as well as the Olympics. The pride of one’s country will be attached to it. Country representation is of paramount importance to us.