2016 was a good year for ending sports title droughts. Across the world, there were multiple instances of long suffering fans finally being able to celebrate a major trophy win.
Leicester City Football Club became champions of England for the first time in its history, 132 years after they were formed.
The Cleveland Indians won a famous first NBA title, 46 years after they first played in the league. Fans from the city had seen 147 failed seasons from its major league sports teams before the Indians delivered.
The Chicago Cubs finally overcame the Curse of the Billy Goat to win the World Series, 108 years after they had last won it.
I suppose it was not the worst year for Delhi either. There were title wins for the Delhi Acers in the revamped Premier Badminton League (PBL) and the Delhi Capitals in the UBA Pro Basketball League. In addition to this, the Delhi Waveriders came in third in the Hockey India League (HIL). Given that city based franchise teams are a fairly recent phenomenon in Indian sport, it would seem that the sporting gods were spreading some cheer in the capital city while doing their best work elsewhere.
However, only three leagues have established a strong presence in the country and Delhi did not do too well in them, as in previous years. The Indian Premier League (IPL), Indian Super League (ISL) and the Pro Kabaddi League (PKL) had more than 200 million unique viewers each in 2016, according to the Broadcast Audience Research Council India. The fourth most followed league in the Pro Wrestling League (PWL) had 109 million unique viewers. The HIL and the PBL confirmed the status of hockey and badminton as sports with niche audiences drawing in 43 and 36 million viewers respectively. It is considerably lower for basketball.
The travails of the Delhi Daredevils in ten seasons of the IPL have been well documented. They have tried every thing in their armoury to win that trophy; going with batting heavy lineups one season and bowling heavy ones the next, buying superstars sometimes and investing in youth other times. Nothing has worked so far and more often than not, they find themselves competing for the wooden spoon.
It has been the same story for Dabang Delhi. The highest they have placed is sixth in the inaugural edition and their results have gotten progressively worse since, culminating in a last placed finish in their group last season.
Cut to 2018 and the Dynamos are propping up the rear in this year’s ISL, another major trophy never claimed by the city, and one wonders why the second most populous city in India does not produce more championship teams?
Even before the advent of city based franchises in the country, Delhi has been unable to convert its dominance in various editions of the National School Games to wins in the senior national events. Delhi has never topped the table in the modern incarnation of the National Games, held since 1985. Even the Delhi Ranji Trophy team, backed by one of the richest boards in India, has won only one title in 25 years.
Being the capital city, it has the advantage of proximity to administrators, with most major sports bodies headquartered there. It is the only city in India to have hosted the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, along with other major sports events, and this has resulted in legacy infrastructure comparable with the best in the world, let alone the rest of India.
The city should be pulling its weight a lot more in the sporting arena, especially in the major leagues. It has a poor record that needs correcting and as the ISL enters the business end this season with the Dynamos only making up the numbers, one wonders when the sporting curse on the city will be lifted? Delhi are no Cleveland yet, but a reputation is building and how long before it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy?