Badminton superstar Saina Nehwal gave up hefty endorsement deals worth at least Rs 1.5 crore to focus on winning a medal at the Olympics, people close to her revealed to MiD DAY. Saina's sacrifice paid off on August 4 when she won India's first badminton medal in Olympic history - a bronze.
"At least five to six top brands wanted to sign up Saina," her father Dr Harvir Singh Nehwal, an agricultural scientist, said after Saina created history. "They wanted to do so even before she went for the Olympics. But she declined all those offers as she did not want her Olympics preparations to be affected."
Three big deals
The money Saina (22) could have made with those deals was considerable given the fact that, "at least three major multinational companies - an electronics giant, a drinks company and an automobile giant - were keen on signing on Saina before the Games. Each of the deals was worth at least Rs 50 lakh. Besides, there were a host of other smaller companies too that approached us with commercial deals, but Saina turned them all down," Deccan Chronicle Holding Limited's H Manjula, who manages Saina's commercial commitments, told MiD DAY.
"Some of these firms wanted Saina to shoot for about six hours a day, while others expected her to spend eight to 10 hours. But Saina refused to take up any offer as she wanted to utilise every bit of her time to practice and in preparation for the Games. It (doing endorsements) is not easy. It takes a lot of time as you have to travel to the studio or wherever they call you. Saina wanted to stay focused and did not want any kind of distraction. Therefore, she humbly requested for the meetings to be set up after the Olympics," added Saina's father.
The badminton star was always hot property and when she pocketed two titles in as many weeks - Thailand Open last June and the Indonesian Open title (for the third time) the following week, the attention on her simply doubled. Manjula said, "Soon after she returned from her wins in Thailand and Indonesia, Saina was inundated with requests for interviews and for endorsement deals.
She did try and do a few interviews but then realised that it took a lot off her post-practice. She would eventually get no time to rest. So, finally, she decided to put a stop to it all. No interviews, no endorsements till the Olympics at least, she said. We supported her as her success on court is our primary objective. And right enough, it has paid off today. She is India's most successful badminton player ever," Manjula asserted.
The monetary sacrifice is just a part of the humongous sacrifices demanded by sportspersons at this level. The World No 5, understood that to achieve her aim - an Olympic medal - meant to be absolutely single-minded in purpose and there was only one way to do it, shut away all distractions and impositions on time, even if it meant losing good money in commercial deals and a good deal of publicity from the media hankering for interviews.
Saina was awarded third place after World No 2 Xin Wang of China forfeited the match suffering a knee injury. Incidentally Wang won the first game 21-18 during which she hurt her knee during an awkward landing. Thereafter, the Chinese player received medical attention on court and even won the first point of the second game but could not continue thereafter.
Today, after carving her name into the history books, Saina knows it has all been worth it. Hopefully, for this sharp shuttler, who has dissipated some gloom in the Indian camp, with her podium finish, the commercial deals should be back. After all, the young champion has displayed maturity that belies her years - she was hungry for medals, not greedy for money.