Nilesh Kulkarni's IISM to receive Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar

Sports management institute IISM, co-founded by cricketer Nilesh Kulkarni, will receive the award virtually from President Ramnath Kovind on Saturday.

Nilesh Kulkarni and Rasika, the founders of IISM in Mumbai.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Nilesh Kulkarni has a penchant for firsts. The former spinner, who became the first Indian bowler to pick a wicket off his first ball in Test cricket in 1997, continued the trend off the field even after hanging up his boots.

In 2010, Kulkarni along with his wife, Rasika, co-founded the International Institute of Sports Management (IISM) to prepare professionals for an industry that was in the making.

On Saturday, the educational institute will receive its biggest recognition during its decade-long sojourn — the Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar by President Ram Nath Kovind during a virtual National Sports Awards presentation ceremony.

Besides having groomed more than 1,500 sports industry professionals, IISM has also been recognised as the University of Mumbai’s sports management degree course. “It is a reward and recognition put in by the students, associates, faculty members and last but not the least, team IISM, over the last ten years,” an elated Kulkarni told Sportstar on Friday.

READ| National Sports Awards: Why different yardsticks for different athletes?

The couple started planning for IISM after Kulkarni’s retirement from First Class cricket in 2007. His sporting excellence and Rasika’s event management background made the job easier. “Cricket taught me all the management lessons, including leadership, decision-making and critical thinking. Most importantly, the ability of handling failure and rising from it. Rasika and I have converted it into our organisation motto.

“Sports as an industry was almost non-existent back then. Only after the advent of IPL that people realised the need for sports professionals in India. Since then, almost 14 to 15 national franchise leagues have emerged and all these leagues required trained, professional workforce and managers to cater to the demands of the industry. Be it management, sales, operations, when it comes to sports, you need a different outlook and we are glad to have contributed to it,” he said.

READ| Gavaskar: Time for performance-linked pay in Test cricket

Over the last decade, IISM has moved from a small facility in the Jai Hind College premises to a sprawling campus at Marol. It has evolved into a primary data generation hub with practical knowledge.

“We let our students have at least 150 hours of experience on the field in an academic year. Besides, in the last three to four years, our students have generated more than 25 papers in order to generate primary data. These kids are going to be torch-bearers for the sports industry and our endeavour is to help them get a hands-on experience,” added Kulkarni.

Besides tying up with major sports industry firms, IISM has been associated with Khelo India Games and the Sports Authority of India over the last two years.