SAI to Sport India

By Ashwini Nachappa | April 16, 2017

A few days ago, as a member of a newly constituted governing council of Sports Authority of India, I attended a meeting presided by Vijay Goel, minister of state for youth affairs and sports. The intensity of the discussions on a plethora of issues left me with hope that change was in the air. But, for change to be truly transformational will mean upheaval, an inevitable outcome of a fundamental shakeup of the existing structure. I am not talking about incremental change of sprucing up infrastructure or improving standards of training or, for that matter, winning medals. I am talking about creating a robust sporting revolution which fits in with our prime minister’s vision for a ‘New India’.

Goel said upfront that it was not for the government to do everything and that there must be a multi-pronged, coordinated effort between various entities—both public and private—for change to come about. He mentioned the government had already signed agreements with several private foundations and sports organisations that were committed to transforming sport.

The ideas on what need to be done are aplenty but how it must be done has always been our Achilles heel. We fail in execution simply because of our structure of sports governance. For long, development of sport has been built around schemes of the ministry. Schemes don’t help develop culture and systems. People and right governance do. Schemes are just resources. For example, there is the National Sports Development Fund which has seven different schemes overseen by six council members and as many executive members. How do the various beneficiaries fit into the larger picture of sport development in general as well as dovetail into other schemes? Who is connecting the dots of all the schemes and development?

Illustration: Bhaskaran

What we really need today is a nodal organisation that is the linchpin of our structural transformation. Do we create a new organisation or can one of our existing entities play this role? I believe that SAI has the potential to be this organisation, but in an entirely new avatar. SAI’s raison d’etre will need to be reimagined. First, let’s agree that any such body must not be an ‘authority’. It must be the main driver of development. So, rechristen Sports Authority of India to Sport India. SAI’s current operations can then be absorbed as one of the elements of SI.

The mandate for SI would be to promote and develop all sports, be it for recreation or competition. It would ensure state-of-the-art knowledge of performance is continually brought into the system and support the building of world-class infrastructure in addition to providing facilities for training elite athletes. Finally, as part of its mandate, SI would be responsible for taking India to world eminence. SI should be run like any professionally managed corporate organisation. However, it must be an independent, non-governmental body headed by a commissioner of sport reporting to a Sports Board. The Board must be a fair representation our society—sportspeople, ministry, corporates, educationists, technical experts, etc. There must be an ombudsman to ensure governance is of the highest integrity. Those working in SI cannot hold any other position in government or private organisations.

Can Sport India become a reality? The timing is right. If the highly contentious Goods and Services Tax can have consensus and be passed, then a sports bill should be a lot easier to get through. And, while that is happening, a blueprint for SI can be worked on by the ministry. The role of the government should be that of a midwife—help in the delivery of a new entity and then leave it in capable hands.

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