Indian links for basketball team

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Wollongong Hawks take on Gujarat NRE name, writes RITAM MITRA

The Australian National Basketball League (NBL) has been through some turbulent times of late. Having experienced a plateau and even a drop in popularity, media attention, attendance at matches and corporate support since its peak in the mid 1990s, only one of its foundation clubs still remains today – and even this club has had a major revamp of late. The Wollongong Hawks, who were bailed out just two seasons ago by Gujarat NRE during the “Save the Hawks” campaign, have recently announced that they will now be proudly known as the Wollongong NRE Hawks, after the Illawara-based mining company won the naming rights to the team.

In 2009, Gujarat NRE began its relationship with the club as a bank guarantor and a major sponsor – so in many ways, being the naming rights sponsor was a natural progression of affairs. Arun Kumar Jagatramka, the chairman of the company, is delighted to be on board with the team once again, and looks forward to building the relationship further.

“We are committed to the ongoing support of the Hawks and to the Illawarra region,” he said. “Gujarat NRE has played a vital role in the Illawarra community since 2004, when we first arrived after purchasing NRE No. 1 Colliery (formerly South Bulli Mine).”

“In 2009 we had the opportunity to help save the Hawks. I had the pleasure of meeting Hawks Captain Mat Campbell where he outlined the region’s passion for the club that has been a part of this community since 1979. At that moment a decision was made to support the club by providing the required bank guarantee for the Hawks to remain in the NBL. I hope our further commitment as naming rights sponsor from this season will ensure the Hawks’ future for decades to come,” Mr Jagatramka said.
The chairman of the Wollongong NRE Hawks, Peter Bahlman, was also looking forward to the new era – with fresh changes not only headlined by the new name, but a new logo and unprecedented community support, which perhaps began when the club became a not-for-profit community-owned organisation two years ago.

“We greatly appreciate Gujarat NRE’s commitment to our club and the company’s support to the Illawarra region, which is second to none.” he said. “It is only fitting to see Gujarat NRE’s commitment progress as our naming rights sponsor.”

Naturally, as a result of the local community encouragement provided by companies such as Gujarat NRE, Wollongong is experiencing much closer ties with India – as a result, the University of Wollongong will be bidding to make Wollongong a host city for the Indian Film Festival next year when it hosts its inaugural week-long “Bollywood in the Gong” festival later this month.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Professor Joe Chicharo, was excited about the event. “This is about the cultural linkages and getting our students to get a better idea of Indian society.” He was also in hope that this would enhance India ’s vision of Australia , following the series of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne last year – indeed, last year the university announced plans to open up a campus in Ahmedabad.

On the night before their showdown with the Gold Coast Blaze, the Hawks even had an inaugural Bollywood night as a warm up for the event. There were Bollywood dancers before the match on the 24th of February, in an unprecedented link between basketball and Indian culture.

For Gujarat NRE, the deal backs up their commitment to the sporting community NSW-wide – just two years ago, the company pledged $200,000 a year for three years to NSW Cricket in sponsorship of their state age teams. They are already the naming rights partners and major sponsors of the Cricket NSW Indoor Cricket Centre at the SCG, and their banners have begun dominating the advertising around the ground.

This new link has been met with widespread acclaim from the public, who embraced the Bollywood dancers last month at the WIN Stadium. Cricket has been the primary sporting connection the two sides have shared, for indeed much of history – it is refreshing to see such support shown on a much smaller, albeit just as passionate stage.

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