Making sports in India

By Ashwini Nachappa | April 02, 2017

Panchayat Yuva Krida aur Khel Abhiyan, National Sports Development Fund, National Welfare Fund for Sportspersons, Scheme of Assistance to National Sports Federations, and Scheme of Human Resource Development in Sports are just a few of the numerous ‘schemes’ that the ministry of youth affairs and sports (MYAS) has instituted for the development of sports. In 2013, MYAS put up a “concept note on long-term plan for development of talent for Olympic sports”, which highlighted our shortcomings very candidly (you can read this note on the MYAS website) and then set up a roadmap to achieve a goal of 25 to 30 medals by the 2020 Olympics. What was suggested was sound and logical and yet, in 2016 we had a washout at the Rio Olympics. Then the NITI Aayog put up a 20-point programme to revitalise sports in India. Why the NITI Aayog was chosen to do this is difficult to comprehend. It will be a humungous achievement if we win even five medals in Tokyo.

I have been part of many committees and bodies, and despite the right intent and clear plans, we have not progressed. Plans invariably remain on paper and decisions end up as minutes of meetings. What is sorely missing is the ability to execute our plans on the ground and that is due to a lack of clarity on assigning responsibility and defining roles. The real problem lies in the way our sports is structured. And manoeuvring through this maze is the big challenge.

Sports in India is governed by five distinct entities whose relationship with each other is not defined clearly—MYAS, national federations, the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the state sports associations. You would imagine that MYAS would play the coordinating role, but the structure does not allow that. For example, a national federation does not need to be affiliated to MYAS for it to function. All it needs is official recognition by the relevant international federation to represent that sport in our country.

Illustration: Bhaskaran

But performance is in the interest of the nation and not of the international federation. Who then is to hold the national federation accountable for the lack of performance? In this chaotic complexity of the various entities, how is one to identify and nurture talent? What happens to talent from the small towns and villages? Is there a clear way to the top? Who manages that way? What really is the role of the IOA? Which is the entity that ensures that best in class infrastructure and state-of-the-art knowledge of performance is adopted and imparted? Who develops a continuous flow of world-class trainers? Who coordinates all this?

In July 2015, MYAS asked me to head a committee to conduct an inquiry after four women athletes at SAI’s Kozhikode centre attempted suicide. Our team studied 16 of 56 SAI centres across the country. We found appalling living conditions for athletes with outdated training methodologies and dilapidated infrastructure. In several places both SAI and the state government ran programmes on the same campus that were totally disconnected from each other. We submitted a report towards the end of 2015 and to date I am not aware of any concrete action taken to improve the conditions.

There is virtually no cooperation among our sporting entities. Money allocated by the government for several schemes remains unspent. Development and improvement projects lie incomplete and, in many cases, don’t even start. What we really need is a coordinating nodal organisation that plans and manages the way the entities function. Such an organisation would necessarily have to be a nonprofit and nongovernmental organisation where all the five entities come under its purview and professional managers, armed with a robust sports law, run the show. Only such an organisation can ‘Make Sports In India’ a reality. What must be the structure for such an organisation that will enable us to work together? Watch out for my next column.

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