Photos: (G) Swedish world record champion Daniel Stahl with a Nelco record; (R) Tajinderpal Singh Toor in India has been using ATE products for years.
In the early 1900s, a small makeshift shop on Mohini Road in Lahore sold only badminton shuttlecocks. Balraj Anand, who sat behind the unassuming store counter, never imagined that three generations later his great-grandsons would be making equipment for athletes competing in the Olympics.
When the subcontinent was split into two independent nation-states, Anand was part of one of the greatest migrations in human history, moving from what has become Pakistan to present-day India.
“My grandfather then carried on the legacy and developed the business in Mathura (a town in northern India),” Hetain Anand, third generation descendant of the family and director of Anand Track, told VICE. & Field Equipment (ATE). “We then gradually moved to Meerut due to the availability of skilled labor here. ”
Meerut is a city located in the west of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. The country’s sporting goods capital since the early 1980s, the city is home to nearly all of India’s major suppliers of sporting equipment.
ATE equipment has been used by athletes like discus thrower Yaime Pérez from Cuba and Indian Kamalpreet Kaur. Many spectators placed their bigger bets on Kaur winning an Olympic gold medal this year. In the shot put category, Tajinderpal Singh Toor has also been using ATE products for years.
Another Meerut maker, Nelco Sport, also had roots in a city that is now part of Pakistan. Sialkot, a city in northeast Pakistan, was once home to skilled workers who helped solidify its reputation as a sports manufacturing center.
“When India was divided in 1947, many skilled Hindu craftsmen from Sialkot migrated across the border to the Punjab, settling in Jalandhar and Meerut, where the Indian sporting goods industry is. now based, ”Amber Anand, director of Nelco Sport, told VICE. Amber Anand is related to the Anand who run ATE although their businesses are entirely separate.
Nelco’s great success came at the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi, when the company was selected as the official equipment supplier. Nelco’s equipment was then selected for use at the 1991 World Athletics Championships in Tokyo.
Nelco and ATE are certified by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) for use at major sporting events, including the Olympic Games. Only equipment certified by the IAAF may be used at major sporting events, and only records set with this equipment are recognized in the books.
Using the “Indra” disc, ATE’s trademark, Indian athlete Krishna Poonia won the 2010 Commonwealth Gold Medal, setting a world record. Cuban athlete Yaime Pérez won women’s gold at the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Athletics using the same disc. When it comes to throwing tools, their ‘Fuego’ tungsten hammer made in 2019 has become the hammer of choice for world champions like Finnish hammer thrower Silja Kosonen. Nelco’s equipment has also been used by the current discus throwing world champion, Swede Daniel Ståhl.
At the Tokyo Olympics, Indian discus thrower Seema Punia will use the disc made by Bhalla International – another Meerut-based company and one of India’s largest exporters of sports equipment.
With contemporary athletics’ increased emphasis on innovation, the expectation to deliver massively on the technological front keeps the heat going.
“It is essential to keep reinventing our products,” said Anand of Nelco. “This is the only way for international athletes to buy our products. We can keep talking about our heritage, be moved by the age and establishment of the Meerut market, but if we can’t demonstrate cutting edge technology in the field, no one cares.
Meerut’s sporting goods industry is largely recovering from the blow the pandemic has dealt it. The city is also a hub for bats and crickets, but with the cancellation of sporting events and the closure of sports facilities and gymnasiums, the industry has been hit hard.
Manufacturers also had a hard time importing raw materials, and some suppliers have reported a drop of more than 50% in their sales. Now, however, with the return to normal and events like the Olympics helping to publicize this market, things are looking upbeat.
Is the Meerut market competitive? Not enough. If you ask the directors of ATE and Nelco, they will tell you that they are all trying to do their best – maybe healthy competition but nothing bad, they insist.
However, the biggest challenge for the sporting goods market in India is to fight against the stereotypes associated with the Made-in-India label.
“When it comes to the Olympics, athletes or their managers don’t physically come to our stores to buy products or order online,” Hetain Anand said of the process.
“We are supposed to submit our products to the Olympic organizers first. Players are then expected to vote for the products they need. But often, when they see India associated with a brand, regardless of the technological quality of the product, they reject it. But it really comforts us that there are still so many players voting for our products and using them successfully since 1992. ”
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