Neeraj Chopra’s vacation video from Switzerland, shared with fans on Instagram, features him skydiving, underlined by the following words: “Sky is not the limit.” It is a striking way of expressing the adrenalin flowing inside the athlete, whose ambition in the javelin throw can be expressed using these same words. Climbing a sporting peak no Indian has done before, the 24-year-old daredevil is in action mode. Step by steady step, the reigning Olympic champion and World Athletics medallist is chasing targets. The next one is the 90m mark, no deadline decided, it will happen when the time is right.
Out there in the stadium, he operates in his own world, deflating rivals with a monster throw early in the competition and watching them struggle to catch up. The Diamond League series champion tag is the latest feather in his cap, winning the final in Zurich by hurling the spear over 88.44 metres, becoming one of 32 elite athletes to be crowned the king in his event. After six throws in Letzigrund stadium, he earned applause, a staggering $ 30,000 plus a diamond-shaped trophy, and took part in a parade of champions taken around the track.
The boost to his reputation will get reflected in the endorsement deals to follow. The Swiss vacation is a well-deserved break for Neeraj, to allow the mind and body to recoup before a busy year ahead. With the Diamond League trophy in hand, the 24-year-old moves up into the ‘pioneer class’ in Indian sport, the first from his country to win a Diamond League event (Lausanne 2022 with a mammoth throw of 89.08m).
Winning a Diamond League final for the first time adds glitter to his aura as a man of action, in the headlines for high performance in the majors.
The ‘like’ for skydiving is an extension of his personality and can lift his appeal among track & field followers and beyond. “Neeraj reaffirmed his status as one of the few world-class Indian athletes. As things stand, we have three to five deals in the pipeline. A soft launch in the smartwatch category was done with Alt, which is run by the number one brand Noise. We are looking at deals in gaming, luxury, automobiles and stationery categories. He is an inspiration for children, we are looking at partners in that space,” explained Mayur Desai, Head Brand Partnerships at JSW Sports, who manages the athlete.
The Olympic champion’s earnings from endorsements are in the region of Rs 36 crore, according to information from the group. He commands a fee in the range of Rs 3 crore per deal and 12 brand tie-ups. The prize money at the ‘invitation only’ Diamond League is the performance incentive. The World Championships 2022 silver medal (second Indian after long jumper Anju George) elevated him into an achievers’ zone, since the Tokyo Olympics gold. The focus was on him at Zurich and being a part of the winner’s group at the post-event show, can only upgrade his status as a special talent.
Track & field stars are celebrities in Europe, for example.
Sportswear, sports equipment and wellness brands use the athlete’s appeal to influence brand impact. Asked if feelers have come from other world stars about the Indian thrower teaming up in advertisements or launches with them, Mr Desai said: “Not so much by peers, some of the global brands that Neeraj is signed up with, recognise him as a world-class athlete from India and not just as a regional ambassador. They involve him with other athletes as part of campaigns.”
TATA AIA’s campaign involving David Beckham and Neeraj Chopra (ambassadors both) saw both in a virtual interaction on their life journey, hosted by an anchor. Mayur Desai added: “We get queries for him to be a part of promotional campaigns, something he takes seriously as an ambassador for athletics in the country. He wants to play a role in popularising the sport here and globally.” Interestingly, Neeraj was invited by the Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee for an interaction last month with Mr Thomas Bach (IOC president).
The Paris Olympics 2024 will see the Indian compete as defending champion, a rarity in track and field here. He earned a wildcard for the next World Athletics in Budapest (given to Diamond League champions), so promotions and campaigns can be planned in future. Images of a diamond-shaped trophy in his hand at Zurich can open a window into endorsements or promos featuring sparkling stones. Mr Desai agreed, saying: “We definitely see synergies for Neeraj in the jewellery category. There is awareness amongst young Indian audiences and potential for a campaign around jewellery, investing in gold securities.”
“If social media is an indicator, Neeraj has a large percentage of female followers. His appeal is quite universal in that sense,” said the JSW Sports person. Visualising a muscular thrower replacing cine stars in a niche campaign is an intriguing thought, but Neeraj is certainly an achiever from the real world, coupled with armed forces background (Subedar with 4 Rajputana Rifles unit) combine to create a different image. Sporting achievers doing the ramp walk in fashion shows is accepted now, the nation’s second Olympic champ (after shooter Abhinav Bindra and celebrity in his own right) can set a trend.
Track & field preparation is a year-round activity, as in any sport involving pros, the spear thrower and entourage need to create a window of opportunity to do the shoots. Mayur Desai elaborates: “Neeraj is one of the top three endorsed athletes in the country today that includes cricketers. That being said, he will be training during his off-season as well and we have limited appearances for any commercial engagements. We will look to unlock maximum value when signing up brands.” The Asian Games in Hangzhou is a big one coming up for the javelin thrower, currently under Dr Klaus Bartonietz, an expert in biomechanics.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with world beaters at the Diamond League finals post-event, 13 Olympic gold medallists and seven world champions together on stage, endorsement deals involving Neeraj can only take off after Zurich. Skydiving with friends, arranged by Switzerland Tourism in a win: win situation for the organisation and a widely-travelled sportsperson with a head for highs in track & field and diverse hobbies, ranging from adventure to photography. Serious injuries are part and parcel of competitive sport, the champion knows his body better than most and can calm his mind when the time comes to shoulder responsibility for India.