Face painted in tricolours, special hairstyles, trumpets in hands and placards with a special message to support favourite teams or players are a common sight in a stadium. Cricket has always had its fair share of enthusiasts but Indian fans always take the madness to another level. Over the years, not just the number of fans has increased but groups supporting the team and their efforts have also exploded. One such fan group is the ‘Bharat Army’, touted as India’s largest globally travelling group of fans. The group recently celebrated its 20th anniversary.
How ‘Bharat Army’ was born
It all started two decades ago, during the 1999 World Cup in the UK, when a 20-something Rakesh Patel (co-founder of Bharat Army), arrived at Old Trafford Cricket Stadium in England to watch the World Cup match between India and Pakistan. What he witnessed was that the number of Pakistan fans outnumbered the Indian fans. There were hardly 200 to 300 Indian fans in the stadium. And this was how the idea of ‘Bharat Army’ was born. And over the past two decades, the group has only grown in popularity. While speaking to Aljazeera, Rakesh Patel says that the group rose to popularity after India’s victory at the 2011 World Cup. The tournament turned to be a turning point when the fan group turned from an amateur setup into a commercial enterprise. Today the group has over 20 employees based across three different countries. Two-thirds of the total sale are from India and the US. “Every time India plays, the Bharat Army has between 5,000 and 6,000 fans in the stadium, which is sometimes around a third of the total crowd," said Patel,” says Patel to Aljazeera.
Patel believes that there are two important factors responsible for the growing number of Indian fans on international stadiums. The first being Indian cricket team’s success over the past decade and the second is the country’s economic growth that allows people to spend on sports leisure trips.
According to Indiatimes, in 2015 Bharat Army set up ‘Bharat Army Travel’ taking into consideration the increase in demand for Indian cricket fans who wish to travel around the world for major tournaments and series. The group has at least five buses moving fans between venues.
How the Bharat Army Works
Getting a ticket is a difficult task and luck plays an important part as the ticketing process works using a ballot system. While speaking to the Indian Express, Patel says, “There is a ballot system in the ticketing process, and any fan can apply, although luck plays a part. But for official fan groups, who are the ICC’s partners, the benefit is a ‘priority link’. It is a URL that we send to our members. We get better chances in the ballot.” He further adds, “We have to sell the ticket with a travel element — it could be flights from fan-countries to England, or hotel accommodation, or inter-city travel.” The report also reveals Patel’s plans to reach the Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
World Cup 2019
For the World Cup 2019, the Bharat Army is drafted as the official travelling and tours partner and have sold over 11,000 tickets in the league stages. The Bharat Army is also the official partners for the T20 World Cup in Australia in 2020.
Special chant for Vijay Shankar
On June 16, after Vijay Shankar entered the World Cup 2019 team replacing Shikhar Dhawan, Bharta Army welcomed the all-rounder with a special song in his name. The lyrics are, ‘Jay Jay Vijay Shankar, you pull away from the bouncer, he is a batting all-rounder. He comes from Tamil Nadu, he has made his World Cup breakthrough.’