India’s sporting history traces back to the Vedic era, from which various sports originated and are still prominent and popular. Sports such as badminton, snooker and wrestling trace their origin to India.
Despite boasting of such a long sporting history, India has not been able to top the rankings, even in sports it has been known to excel in. Why is this so? Though the problems are several, the most common ones are highlighted here, and can be studied under two heads:
Problems at government level
Lack of sports infrastructure
~ We have around 45 major stadiums across India, of which 29 are cricket stadiums and seven are hockey fields. Such facilities tend to be concentrated in certain States — for instance, in Kolkata, parts of Goa and Kerala, regions that have, for long, boasted a sporting culture. But sports infrastructure in most other States and cities are far from optimal.
~ A 2008 New York Times report says that: “Much of the problem with developing Olympic champions in India seems to be rooted in the same things that make the country lag in economic development: poor infrastructure, entrenched political corruption and infighting, chaos and disorganisation. Money earmarked for Olympic training is often mysteriously sidelined, facilities for training are in poor shape and equipment goes missing.”
Favouritism in coach and athlete selection
~ The choice of coaches is not based on satisfactory procedures and is often overpowered by influential people, generally politicians in power. They tend to favour certain people, based purely on personal issues or gains, and overlook the need to have proper coaches for systematic and sound training of any team.
An example of such arbitrary selection is that of Lalit Bhanot who, after spending 11 months in prison after allegations of corruption following the 2010 Games, was elected Secretary-General of the Indian Olympic Association!
There are over 70 recognised national sports federations (NSF) in India, of which 38 have politicians at the helm. This leads to bureaucracy, favouritism and corruption, increasing fund leakages and delayed decision-making.
India is no stranger to corruption and its culmination in scale and magnitude during the 2010 Commonwealth Games subjected the government to global shame and scorn. The government ended up spending 18-fold more than the $400 million originally allocated in 2003 for the Games — an amount that could have funded three Olympic Games.
The State-Centre dichotomy in sports management is a key issue preventing the Centre from promoting or developing sports at the local level; meanwhile, some States find it difficult to sustain the flow of funds, which are unevenly allocated.
The complicated manner in which funds are allocated through the Sports Federations and Sports Authority Centres make it harder for sportspersons to compete on a level playing field at the Olympics or other sporting events.
Misuse of budgets
~ The Centre claimed to have sanctioned ₹46 crore ($6.9 million) for 106 elite athletes. However, only ₹6 crore ($895,000) was spent till December 2015. And a significant chunk of that was used by the people who didn’t go out to the ground to play and win — the officials.
Problems at grassroots level
Nutrition deficiency and unbalanced diet
~ The biggest hurdle for an average Indian to put in consistent efforts and excel in a particular sport is diet. Absurd as it may sound, the modern Indian diet has become full of food that does little to nourish the body.
While the difference may not be observable for a layman, for a sportsperson, the slightest disturbance to the body’s nutritional balance caused by poor diet leads to long-term disadvantages. In the West, diets rich in meat, vegetables and fruits give sports-people a natural advantage.
Lack of awareness, economic incentives
~ Hockey is our national sport, but has lost importance in the past few years. India failed to qualify for the Beijing Olympics and in the London Olympics 2012, the team came last, losing all its matches. Not only hockey, but tennis, football, golf, badminton — all are in the same pathetic condition. Neither are sponsors interested in financing them, nor does the government raise enough funds.
Even football has lost its importance to a great extent; except for Goa and West Bengal, none of the other States are interested in it. In short, no sport in India except cricket is well-managed. Most other sports are trapped in politics and controversy.
Overemphasis on cricket
~ Indians are cricket-crazy. The government too seems to favour the sport. There is a separate board (BCCI) for development of cricket at the national level along with various State cricket associations, whereas there are only national federations for the rest. This is the main reason why even hockey, the country’s national game, is given less importance than cricket.
Poor media coverage
~ Another key reason cricket’s popularity, apart from the powerful BCCI, is the TV rights and sponsorships that accord primacy to highly rated players. Football, once one of the most viewed games, has been left to the IFA and DD Sports/National, and has practically faded from popular memory. And the less said about hockey, the better.
“ Kheloge kudoge to banoge kharaab, padhoge likhoge to banoge nawaab”; this popular Hindi saying captures the main problem with Indian society. Parents tend to over-emphasise academics, without giving due importance to sports and co-curricular activities.
Indians consider sports the last option and, even when considered, it is done to get admission into a reputed college or university under the sports quota or to get an elite government job, with less hard work and high pay. When the goals happen to be so low and insignificant, there are no chances of even qualifying the Olympics.
One of the main reasons for such a feudal mentality among Indians is uncertainty. People tend to think that in a country where few facilities and benefits are provided to sportspersons, deciding to opt for a career in sports is not advisable. Every person wants some job security and a permanent source of income for his/her family when he/she earns. And when people see national/ international-level players struggling to earn a living, no one is willing to let their children take such a career decision.
While several problems have been highlighted above, here are some strategies to tackle them and remedy the situation:
Prioritisation of sportspersons and sporting events has to be done transparently and quickly for furthering the cause of sports in India. In June 2010, appalled by the Commonwealth Games corruption scandal, former Indian Olympians launched the Group of Clean Sports India to raise public awareness and fight corruption in sports.
In a short time-span, the group has enlarged its support base and campaigned hard to oppose politicians with no sports background from contesting for executive positions in sports bodies. Recently, the group succeeded in persuading Pallam Raju, Minister of State for Defence, to withdraw from the race for President of the Equestrian Federation of India.
Recruitment of experienced coaches
While the US, the UK, and China have excellent coaching facilities, India has only a few coaches and sports academies. As of 2016, key Indian sports academies were the Bhiwani Boxing Club, Gopichand Badminton Academy, Tata Football Schools, Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools, Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy, Tata Archery Academy, and the Mahesh Bhupathi Tennis Academy.
Analysts say more such academies and well-trained, committed and knowledgeable coaches are needed for India to grab more medals at the Olympics.
Selection of sportspersons based on merit
Selection can be done in two tiers: on the one hand, the government could organise mandatory sporting events at district and State levels, with cash prizes and scholarships. And, on the other, sports academies could determine independent thresholds for each sport.
Admission to the academy would be offered to winners and to people meeting or crossing the threshold. Some qualitative measures, such as dedication and exposure, should be included to ensure capability and consistency. Admissions should be on the basis of merit and not favouritism.
At the governance level, the role of Sports Minister should be confined to a monitoring one. Sports federations must be structurally disbanded as they act more as agents of corruption ruled by people totally unrelated to sports. Sport authorities must be given greater autonomy in matters related to their functioning with least interference from other quarters.
While we can blame the BCCI for profiteering, it deserves praisefor the way it conducts events, recruits talent and works systematically.
We should have similar autonomous bodies for football, shooting, archery and other sports, without belittling any specific sport.
Equal funding for all sports
Funding and financial support have been a subject of controversy and issue. Attracting major investment into the sporting arena has been a misnomer owing to the governmental hierarchies. Private participation and funding needs to be encouraged in the sector giving them due benefit and credit. .
The government must support sportspersons who cannot afford foreign coaches and participation in international events, but should not dictate who the foreign coach should be or which events the individual should participate in.
In India, ₹750 crore was spent on sport-specific federations, training centres, coaches and other infrastructure over four years (2012-13 to 2015-16), while the spending on athletes was ₹22.7 crore through NSDF (109 athletes) and ₹38 crore through the Target Olympic Podium (TOP) programme (97 athletes for 2016 Olympics, excluding para Olympic athletes) over the last four years.
Studies reveal that India spends roughly a third to a fourth of the money spent by the UK — which won 67 medals, compared to India’s two — and that Central funding to sports federations is falling.
Infrastructure building should be long-term and not confined to one sporting event, such as the Commonwealth Games or national games. The scope for floating infrastructure bonds and adopting the Public Private Partnership mode on specific projects should be explored seriously.
While attempts such as the lottery for sports, floated by the Kerala government, are welcome, it requires an appropriate marketing and funding strategy. Special taxes can be levied to raise money specifically for sports instead of taking from the common pool.
Loan prioritisation should be made for sports academies and for sportsmen/women taking various loans; which will give a boost to their confidence and assist them in long-term planning. Salaries require to be stipulated in accordance to the credentials of individuals or the team involved. Appropriate scholarships and other benefits must be given regularly.
Creating interest in sports
The next step should be creating awareness and interest in sports so as to develop more athletes. To move in this direction, sports have to be incorporated into the academic curriculum from Std 1, including physical training and theoretical knowledge, with material incentives such as grants to schools with an outstanding athlete turnout. Summer camps at the district and State levels in association with local clubs, sporting schools, and youth organisations, should be organised.
Current international-level winners from India should be respected, compensated with money and job security, and offered corporate positions that allow them to become role models for aspiring athletes. National and regional celebrities must come forward to be associated with sports academies and entrusted with activities that promote the sport concerned. An annual television programme on the lines of Indian Idol or Kaun Banega Crorepati could help identify talent and attract gifted youngsters with awards.
Inspired by the motto ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’, it’s time to educate people, create a movement, determine targets, execute plans, cross barriers, and sprint past the winning line at the Olympics.
(The winners are in their First Year of BBA at Maharaja Surajmal Institute, New Delhi)