With COVID-19 lockdown resulting in a complete halt of trading activities, barring some essential commodities, the over Rs 2,000-crore sports industry of Jalandhar is having a harrowing time as the current situation has forced sport goods manufacturers to defer orders.
With the nationwide lockdown enforced to contain the spread of novel coronavirus, the manufacturers of sports items here are apprehensive about their future going ahead amid indications that the government might decide to further extend the lockdown in view of rising virus cases in several parts of the country.
A sports goods manufacturing hub, Jalandhar produces nearly 70 per cent of total India's sports goods and is a leading name in national and international brands of cricket, hockey, football, rugby and fitness range.
In terms of the international market, the industry exports material to the UK, Australia, South Africa, Germany, France, Netherlands, New Zealand and others.
Alarmed over the situation, the industrialists while supporting the government's move of lockdown said that losses were imminent and the industry would be hit hard.
Atul Madan, the owner of century-old Sarve Prakash and Company, Jalandhar, a leading name in Rugby Export in India, said that in the wake of COVID-19, all national and international borders were sealed and it was complete slowdown now.
"Our export material including footballs, bats, sports accessories for New Zealand and South Africa were lying stuck at Delhi and Bombay Ports. Similarly, not just international sports events like soccer leagues, IPL, other tournaments but those in educational institutions across the country were also staring at an uncertain future as of now," he said, adding that post-COVID-19, the government should provide comfortable liquidity and package to sustain the industry operations.
Nitin Mahajan, the owner of AVM Sports and the general secretary of Sports and Toys Exporters Association, said a letter has been written to Principal Secretary to PM P K Mishra and Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal to sanction GST refunds on priority and increase the percentage of Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS) licenses at least for this year and provide free Export Credit Guarantee Cooperation of India (ECGC) support for import and export to keep business afloat.
The association also shared concerns that because sports goods do not come under 'essential items', this particular industry is facing lots of problems.
"Lack of payment to dealers, distributors, corporates would affect the ability of manufacturers to pay dues to the employees. We have requested that the payments to the manufacturers related to government tenders, orders should be expedited once lockdown ends," Mahajan, whose AVM Sports is famous for cricket bats, cricket equipment and baseballs in India, shared.
He also pointed out that schools, colleges, universities have been closed and stadiums might be taken over by the government for makeshift hospitals.
"As the sports industry is labour oriented, we would want the state government to save local employment and industry. Waiving or deferment of local taxes and minimum electricity charges for a period till the operations start is must," he said.
The traders also mentioned that the sports industry was facing around Rs 2 to 3 crore loss in business every day.
However, the total loss would be ascertained after the lockdown ends, it said.
Rajesh Kharbanda, the managing director of Nivia Sports under the banner of Freewill Sports, said that other than the current crisis, manufacturers were concerned about the welfare of labourers too whom they paid salaries 10-days in advance.
Apart from this, he hinted at the possible changes in sports business in terms of consumer behaviour.
"Community sports like tournaments, gyms, marathons would witness a change because of social distancing. There was a big possibility that now people would prefer individual gym range and sports equipment in their houses like basketball and badminton courts abroad instead of going out. Even face masks would become compulsory to wear in the times to come," he said.
Rajan Kohli, the managing director of TK Sports, renowned for Hockey, IPL jerseys for Kings XI Punjab, T-20 matches and Shrey Helmets for Cricket, said that no doubt business would go down but as of now, the concern is that COVID-19 comes under control.
"The central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was taking the best decisions to counter the pandemic. The business will come and go but right now we should support our country,” he said.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has said the ongoing lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus should continue, while noting that predictions by health experts about the spread of the pandemic are "horrendous and frightening".