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Pickleball gets Bollywood backing as writer-director Shashank Khaitan bets big on the sport

The paddle sport which has already got the attention of many international celebrities including Selena Gomez, Leonardo DiCaprio is now getting traction from Indian celebrities.

The new kid on the block in India’s sports ecosystem, pickleball is getting traction from across the country and now it has got Bollywood backing with writer-director Shashank Khaitan focusing on growing the sport in India.

Khaitan, who is known for films like Dhadak and the recently released Rocky Aur Rani Ki Prem Kahani (in which he was one of the writers) launched the third edition of Monsoon Pickleball Championship in Mumbai on August 24 as a partner of Global Sports, a company setting up the ecosystem for pickleball in India.

The paddle sport which has already got the attention of many international celebrities including Selena Gomez and Leonardo DiCaprio, is now getting traction from Indian celebrities with the ongoing championship bringing to court stars like Varun Dhawan, Janhvi Kapoor, Yuzvendra Chahal to watch the game.

“Because of my Bollywood background, there has been a lot of celebrity backing and for the finale of the monsoon championship we will have Karan Johar, Ajinkya Rahane coming to the event,” said Khaitan.

He said that when he got interested in the sport he realised that the sport holds a lot of potential in India. “I have a background in tennis so I immediately took to the game (pickleball). I also saw the potential in the game and then decided to partner with Global Sports to grow the game. The more I started getting into the sport I realised India is playing at a very good level and we have some of the top players and teams. I realised that it (the sport) needs the correct push.”

Pickleball involves two or four players who hit a perforated, hollow plastic ball with paddles over a 34-inch-high net until one side is unable to return the ball or commits an infraction. Pickleball is played indoors and outdoors.

“The sport in terms of infrastructure does not involve high cost. We have already opened 22 courts in Mumbai which are for recreational and pro-level training in pickleball. We look forward to corporates getting involved. We have tied up with coaching centre and we are going to start from September a coaching program,” the writer-director told Moneycontrol.

Looking at the traction pickleball is getting in India, Khaitan said that the number of players playing tournaments is above 500 currently and in terms of recreational play it is close to 10,000. “This is for a sport that has gained publicity in last 6-7 months. In the next two years, we are going to see 5,000 players playing it professionally and recreationally over 5 lakh people.”

To grow the sport, Khaitan said that he along with Global Sport are coming up with more tournaments. “The Indian Open in Goa with over 240 players and The Global Sports Pickleball Championship held in May with over 370 players, gave us the confidence that there are lot of players playing and they need correct the platform. We want to give players all the resources from courts to the right equipment. We are planning our next big tournament in February. For this, we are striking partnership with international association so that they can send their players to India. For the current monsoon championship, we have partnered with big American companies.”