Image: Students playing Kho-Kho in a government school in Haryana
Ultra liberal shower of cash on the Silver medal winner in Rio Olympics 2016 has touched almost 13 Crores mark. While the marathon runner OP Jaisha collapsed because of dehydration during the event, and there was no support staff over there even to offer her water.
The stark contrast in the treatment of our Athletes is the highlight of numerous reasons why with a contingent of 117 athletes we could only win two medals, while a country cursed by all like North Korea won 7 medals including two Gold out of a contingent of 31 Athletes only. Sporting excellence is a rare feat, and much more so in our country.When a large majority of young population is still deprived of education it is meaningless to expect them to have any sort of formal sports culture. In spite of this we are left with a sizable mass to work with.
Olympic model often gets reduced to a mere Selfie moment for Politicians
During the felicitation of wrestler Sakshi Malik there was a race among politicians to talk big and stand in front for photo ops. The rush for appearing in photo ops was mad enough to leave even Sakshi’s school friends ashamed. In our country, starving of heroes, the achievers are generally used as props for politico’s dance shows. When it comes to bringing structural reforms and developing lasting infrastructure for Sports, they fall miserable short.
Indian Cricket is a good example
While the current sporting scenario in the country is plagued with numerous administrative and cultural issues, we see lack of Private investment into it as the single largest reason for our dismal performance. Cricket is a shining example of what a professionally run Private body, like BCCI can do to a sport. Today BCCI is possibly the most powerful body in International cricket and Indian Cricketers are the top performers in the game. Contrary to the popular belief that we Indians are not born athletes and we considerably lack the physical built to perform at the highest level, Indian cricketers have shown their all-round prowess in the game.
So what is different with Cricket. Hockey & Soccer used to be equally popular games in 60’s & early 70’s in India. Sometime during mid 70’s Cricket viewership picked up with some brilliant individual performance coming up in the sport and then after 1983 world cup victory its popularity shot up like tea on the boil. BCCI has been existence since 1928 as a Society registered under Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act but stands for the National Cricket team of India. It is not dependent on the taxpayer’s money of India and today has an annual budget of about 3139 Crores in 2015-16. IOA (Indian Olympic Association)’s history also dates back to 1924, but contrary to BCCI it has not been able to produce similar results.Government of India has spent just about 750 Crores in last four years on all sports combined. And the bigger concern is, this spend has had a decline trend for last 3 years. For the Rio Olympics preparation IOA spent about 30 Crores on all the Athletes combined in last couple of years, BCCI only for one of its several domestic tournament i.e. Ranji Trophy allocates Rs 30 Crores per year.The stark contrast in the expenditure on sports show up in the performance. Both sports bodies i.e. BCCI and IOA have their own corruption and administration related problems, though IOA failed to deliver where it counts.
So we need more cash for other sports
Signs of desperation are evident in welcoming our medallion heroes when we spent more in rewarding them rather then preparing. Total cash rewards on PV Sindhu, Sakshi and Deepa Karmakar far exceeds the total amount spent in preparation, i.e. 30 Crores.
More cash enables to create robust infrastructure and attractive incentives foe sports aspirants. The underpinned fact is having a sports culture for children and preparing athletes to compete at Olympics level are two different things. And without that culture producing such athletes for highest level is near impossibility.
We have a non serious approach towards sports at school level. Sporting events are rare and generally accessible to the rich. At rural level its all about Cricket. In tier 2 & 3 cities there is complete lack of quality open spaces. Sporting grounds have been taken over by Political rallies leaving no space for youngsters. Indoor sports as it is are expensive and find too few participants.All this requires massive overhaul. Sports need to be made mandatory at all school levels, asking pupils to score a certain minimum grade. I believe If Hindutva can be slowly pushed in the curriculum, so can be sports at all levels.
Through proper urban design, we need to have quality open spaces and sports grounds for youngsters to have a real field day. Indoor sports facilities particularly in Tier-2 & 3 cities would require enormous investment, and there private money can play a big role. In US municipal bonds, since early 80’s have been used to fund construction of Sports stadiums. Some of them have got monopolized by private clubs that must be avoided at all costs. As after all it’s the tax payer’s money that have gone into construction through bonds. Our country has this problem of riches fixing up for preferential treatment even at public spaces. Through a culture of openness and easy access to sports facilities for all, we may change this.
Property developers, have so far been envisaging their Sports facilities clubbed with their residential development. Time has come to start building up standalone facilities as well. Experience says that willingness to pay for quality infrastructure is already there in the urban middle class. Even from Operations & maintenance point of view these facilities can be made profitable.
Promoting club culture and bringing in upright PPP model into Sports infra are need of the hour. Policy makers need to quickly chart out the modalities. Popularity of many other sports like Soccer, Kabaddi, Hockey, Badminton are on the rise. Private players can come forward and capitalize the big gaps in these sports.
Next comes, preparing the athletes for the highest level. That requires an extremely pointed, professional and co-ordinated effort. The kind of work shown by P Gopichand and PV Sindhu towards the preparation for Rio making it all a part of Indian Olympics folklore. But the feed for this preparation will only become possible if we are able to bring about a paradigm shift in our schooling system by making sports a compulsory part of the curriculum. Sports can no longer remain to be extracurricular activity.
Either Hero or Zero syndrome
We also need to get rid of Either a Hero or a Zero syndrome. All sports persons go through a very rigorous process to reach the Olympics or other International events. Their effort must be thoroughly appreciated even if they fail to win the medals. They are not zeroes, considerably in the Rio Olympics this time, performance of the entire contingent has been remarkably better than previous years even though model count might not be better. The Indian contingent participated in more number of the events than previous years and overall their standing in various events was better.
Sports have the power to transform the individual. It teaches to how to accept defeat, how to come back and compete and Imparts enormous amount of mental upheaval. It has the power to channelize the gigantic youth energy into something highly positive. The Indian PM has recently announced a package of 300 Cr for the State of Jammu & Kashmir to build better infrastructure for the sports realizing this only.