Following the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, there were widespread discussions in India about the treatment of sportspersons in the country and the lack of facilities available to them, especially after our dismal performance. We can learn simple lessons from these experiences and develop a strategy to do better next time. With some dedication, we can do wonders!
Macro analysis of the event shows myriad reasons for the poor performance and opportunities for improvement. But first, it’s important to understand some fundamental differences in sports governance in a few countries.
Here is a comparative analysis of sports governance in the US, the UK, China and India.
United States of America
In the US, there is no Sports Ministry; rather, it has the United States Olympic Committee, which earns revenue from television rights and corporate sponsorships. As there is no government interference, this model is a success.
The UK jumped from the 36th position in the 1996 Olympics ranking to 2nd place in 2016. This could largely be attributed to strategic expenditure of funds after segmentation analysis. The country also organises national-level sports events similar to the Olympics to generate awareness and enthusiasm among the youth.
The Chinese government initiated Project 119 as a way to target sporting events that the country did not excel at in the Summer Olympics. It brought in foreign expertise and coaches, provided payment to the athletes, built and improved thousands of sports centres, purchased good equipment, and gave performance bonuses to encourage people to do better.
India pales in comparison with the above-mentioned countries in its treatment of athletes and sports. Indian officials at the 2016 Summer Olympics were downright callous towards the sportspersons. In an embarrassing incident, marathon runner OP Jaisha collapsed at the finish line as there were no officials to provide water or refreshments.
While ₹46 crore was sanctioned for Rio 2016, only ₹6 crore was spent till December 2015.
These are not the only problems Indian athletes face in their attempt to win medals for the country. A multi-step strategy needs to be devised to improve this situation. Here’s a look at a few of the problem areas and the possible solutions:
In the US, academics and extra-curricular activities go hand-in-hand, while in India the phrase Kheloge kudoge hoge kharab, padhoge likhoge banoge nawab (If you play a lot, you’ll get spoilt. If you study, you’ll become a distinguished person) is popularly used to discourage students from taking part in sporting activities. Sports scholarships need to be given at rural and district levels, linking them firmly with university admissions and employment.
Several corporates and sports brands can contribute to a dedicated “Olympics Fund” with management based on the PPP model. Under CSR, companies can also adopt districts or villages to sponsor players.
It is important to provide financial incentives to players in their initial days so that they don’t have to struggle to achieve excellence in sports.
Sports zones, awareness
The Government can create local sporting facilities like the Toyota Park in the US to provide the right environment for players with potential to flourish. It’s also important to tap a person’s athletic abilities at a young age.
Creation of sports centres
The Gopichand Academy is the best example of this: Pullela Gopichand has single-handedly built a cluster for badminton in Hyderabad. Similarly, Haryana is a cluster of excellence for boxing and wrestling and the North-East has shown remarkable energy, with the likes of Mary Kom and Dipa Karmakar.
Kerala is good at boat racing and martial arts. It is a natural place to develop capabilities in canoeing and sports like judo and taekwondo. And mallakhamb is big in Maharashtra, so gymnastics can be a natural extension of this. Each State has its own capabilities and this can be channelled towards doing better at the Summer Olympics. Such a decentralised approach needs to be encouraged and incorporated in a dedicated national plan.
Keep politics away
While corporates should be encouraged to help athletes, sportspersons must also lend their hand and adopt districts to develop Olympics sports programmes.
The Government should create a special task force to ensure that athletes are encouraged and treated properly. If this task force is not marred by lethargic bureaucracy, it can do wonders. So, the task force should not consist of politicians and bureaucrats, rather independent experts in the sports field who can take decisions without any bias.
Generally, bureaucrats hold top positions in groups such as the Archery Association of India and Badminton Association of India, which results in a lack of expertise, and favouritism. This needs to end.
The Government needs to create awareness programmes similar to Swachh Bharat Abhiyan to change the nation’s attitude towards sports other than cricket. It should make India’s performance at the Olympics a national priority through aggressive campaigning.
Many issues need to be addressed to create this change. Many people with potential, especially from economically backward sections as well as the rural areas, have little access to sports training. . There is also a lack of accessibility to training centres between schools and districts, which is why local sporting events must be widely organised with the help of private players, companies, celebrities and the media.
Maybe a ‘Shine@2024’ campaign can be started to bring about a shift in attitudes (both those of society and parents) through various awareness programmes.
Since India still lies at lower base of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it is essential that different segments of society come together to fund athletes. With better funding, they can push themselves to achieve great things for the country. Without basic training facilities and incentives, even the best athletic talent will go to waste.
(The fourth runners-up are first year students of PGDM, from IIM Indore’s Mumbai campus)