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How 'first Lady of Indian sports' Nita Ambani led the country into a new Olympic era

Nita Ambani has been lauded for being the driving force behind the vision of India's successful bid to host the 2023 IOC session. But she has been silently taking massive steps to align India's future with the Olympic spirit for many years now.

How first Lady of Indian sports Nita Ambani led the country into a new Olympic era

Nita Ambani, India's first woman member in the IOC, at the Winter Olympics in South Korea in 2018 (IOC) 


The Bridge Desk

Updated: 19 Feb 2022 9:22 AM GMT

In a historic development in India's Olympic journey on Saturday, Mumbai was awarded the hosting rights for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) session in 2023.

Nita Ambani, who led India's successful presentation, described it as "a significant development for India's Olympic aspirations and a matter of great pride and joy". The decision confirmed that India will be hosting the prestigious IOC meeting for the first time since 1983.

Mumbai received a historic 99% of the votes in favour of its bid from the delegates participating in the process, with 75 members endorsing its candidature to host the IOC session in 2023.

"The Olympic Movement is back to India after a 40-year wait! I am truly grateful to the International Olympic Committee for entrusting India with the honour of hosting the IOC Session in Mumbai in 2023," said Nita Ambani. "This will be a significant development for India's Olympic aspiration and will herald the start of a new era for Indian sport."

"We are one of the youngest countries in the world today and I'm excited for the youth of India to embrace and experience first-hand the magic of the Olympics. It is our dream to strengthen this partnership further and host the Olympic Games in India in the years to come!"

"Nearly half of India's population, over 600 million, are under 25 years of age," said Nita Ambani, during her speech to IOC delegates. "This makes India one of the most crucial and exciting places to nurture and grow the Olympic Movement. Inspired by the Olympic Values Education Programme, it is our mission to identify potential talent and guide them to greatness in the world of sport. To coincide with the Olympic Session 2023, we propose to launch a series of elite sports development programmes for youth across deprived communities."

India's delegation at the IOC session in Beijing on Saturday also included Indian Olympic Association (IOA) President Narinder Batra, Youth Affairs and Sports Minister Anurag Singh Thakur, and India's first individual Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra.

Summing up the delegation's gratitude to Nita Ambani for driving the vision, IOA President Narinder Batra said at the end of the bidding process: "I thank Mrs Nita Ambani for her vision and leadership and also thank all my IOC Member colleagues for their support, I cannot wait to see you here in Mumbai next year. This is the start of a new era for India sport – an era that features the long-term goal of hosting the Olympic Games in India.

How Nita Ambani has been bringing India closer to the Olympics

Nita Ambani was elected a member of the IOC in 2016, on the eve of Rio 2016 – she is the first Indian woman to become a member of the IOC. Her role as an IOC Member since 2016, as well as on a number of IOC Commissions, has enabled her to bring valuable international experience to India's efforts to transform sports and engage with the Olympic Movement.

Advancing youth sports has long been a key focus for Ambani and as the Chairperson of Reliance Foundation, she aims to revolutionize school and college sports in India and provide a platform to student athletes to build a career in sports. Since its inception, the Reliance Foundation's sporting initiatives have reached 2.15 crore youngsters across the country.

Nita Ambani with IOC President Thomas Bach at a Reliance foundation school in 2018.

The 2023 IOC Session in Mumbai is a milestone in India's sporting development for a number of reasons.

It will firmly establish India on the global sporting map, opening up multiple opportunities in organizing sporting events, world-class training infrastructure, nurturing sports talent and enriching the lives of millions of Indian sportspeople as well as a billion-plus sports viewers.

It will open the doors for international partners to connect with over 1 billion passionate Indian sports fans at both grassroots and elite levels.

Nita Ambani is also part of three Olympic Commissions, through which she has strived to take India to the world. She is part of the Olympic Channel (2017-present), an OTT service operated by the IOC, Olympic Education (2017-present), a commission which advises on the promotion of Olympic values-based education and the Culture and Olympic Heritage (2020-present), which advises on activities of the Olympic Movement related to culture.

She has been promoting her vision outside the scope of these commissions too.

Nita Ambani at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Shortly after she joined the IOC, the Pontifical Council for Culture, Vatican City, invited her to speak at the First Global Conference on 'Faith and Sport' in October 2016. She spoke on "Inspiring a Nation: The Impact of Sport on Society and its Ability to Transcend Differences".

She then spoke about the importance of 'Sports and Education for All' at the India Today Conclave in 2018. In 2019, she was invited to speak at the Sport Business Summit, London, organized by Leaders in Sport, where she was referred to as the "First Lady of Indian Sport". She spoke about the massive business opportunities in the Indian sports sector, and invited sporting firms to invest in India.

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