It´s not just highways, railways and air & sea ports that are receiving the federal government´s infrastructure push, but attention is also being paid to development of sports infrastructure.
When in August this year, India sent its largest ever delegation to the Summer Olympic Games held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, most expected the country to further improve on its performance over the London edition of the games which had been held four years earlier. Back then the country had bagged six medals. The country fielded a total of 117 athletes across 15 sports.
But in the end, the world´s second most populous nation returned home with only two medals, a solitary silver and one bronze. In comparison, Kenya and Jamaica participated in only two sports at the same event, but returned home with a rich haul of as many as 100 and 78 medals, respectively.
The disappointing performance by India has again put the spotlight back on the issue of India´s sports infrastructure.
According to Professor Ankan Banerjee, Naval Tata Centre of Excellence in Sports Management, Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management (IISWBM), Kolkata, ´Sports infrastructure plays a crucial role in achieving excellence in the global arena of sports. It not only helps in producing sportspersons of international repute, but also encourages a country´s youth to participate in sporting activities to create a culture of sports. In India, the standard of sports infrastructure is not at a satisfactory level for a number of reasons.´
Banerjee attributes this primarily to an absence of desired level of sports infrastructure, which ultimately reflects in the country´s dismal showing at international sporting events.
Says Sona Chaudhary, former captain of the Indian women´s football team, who is now a popular novelist and motivational speaker, ´Compared to developed Western economies, the sports infrastructure here is still lacking on several fronts. In sports such as tennis and swimming, only enthusiasts with the right personal financial muscle can pursue them. Barring a few, most facilities for serious pursuit of modern Olympic disciplines are simply unavailable in the countryside, where infrastructure exists only for traditional sports like kabaddi, kho-kho and wrestling.´
Till the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2007-12), allocation for development of sports, including infrastructure, was progressively increased. The government announced several big-ticket initiatives such as ´Scheme of Grants for Creation of Sports Infrastructure including Rural Schools´, ´Scheme of Grants for Installing of Synthetic Playing Surfaces´, ´Scheme of Grants for Promotion of Games and Sports in Universities and Colleges´, and ´Scheme of Assistance for the Creation of Urban Sports infrastructure´. But these initiatives have failed to yield the expected results. Professor Banerjee says that the support from the Central government was substantially withdrawn with the shift of the schemes, related to sports infrastructure, to the states, under the Tenth Five-Year Plan.
He says, ´Firstly, the condition of existing infrastructure is not appropriate for international tournaments.
So, when there is an international tournament, it is upgraded for the same. But when it is time for the next international tournament, the stadium is once again found to be lacking in maintenance. Presently, grassroots development is not on the priority list of franchisees, clubs and federations. And that is because facilities and infra required to make it more comprehensive are non-existent.´ adds Professor Banerjee.
Professor Banerjee recommends a five-point agenda towards development of appropriate sports infrastructure in the country:
1.Create a dedicated land bank for building sports infrastructure;
2.Adopt the public-private partnership (PPP) model in which the government will provide institutional and financial support for building infrastructure and the private sector will manage and maintain its operations;
3.Introduce various commercial aspects, such as selling the naming rights, hospitality packages and branding inside the stadiums, to make these facilities sustainable;
4.Use these facilities for multiple purposes, such as organising exhibitions, conferences or for setting up sports academies; and
5.Make these infrastructural facilities open for the use of the public against membership fees.
For her part, other than lack of physical infrastructure, Chaudhary points to the shortage of adequately trained personnel in the field. ´Psychological counsellors for sports are in short supply in India. Let´s not forget that all sportspersons go through some degree of emotional turbulence. To give you an example, sprinter Milkha Singh lost a medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics for this very simple reason. Similarly, when I was wheelchair bound after damaging both my knees, I could recover only due to the efforts made by my family and the force of my own sheer willpower!´
´Let´s Play´, Says NITI Aayog
Following India´s poor faring at the Rio Olympics, NITI Aayog has recommended that the country should identify and focus on priority sports as it aims to bag 50 medals with an eye on the 2024 Olympics in a report titled Let´s Play.
The report, containing a 20-point action plan, recommends that the country prioritise ten sports and develop a result-oriented action plan for each of them. ´Each action plan should be reviewed after every four years and its outcomes assessed annually,´ says the report released in September.
The report suggests implementation of the draft National Sports Development Bill, 2013, to promote ethical practices and improve transparency and accountability in sports bodies.
The report observes that the Indian Premier League (IPL) experiences in cricket has demonstrated that investments in marketing and promotion of league tournaments have several benefits in terms of attracting sponsors, popularising a sport and enhancing viewership. It, therefore, recommends similar investments in marketing of existing leagues in the country such as the Hockey India League and Indian Badminton League. The report also calls for roping in popular movie stars to endorse these leagues so as to popularise them by attracting more sponsors and increase viewership.
The report urges allowing ´private companies/PSUs to acquire naming rights, i.e., buy rights to name a facility, event, sportsperson, beginning from the age of five, typically for a defined period of time in exchange of sponsoring related activities.´ Outlining medium to long-term action plans, the report suggests that the government scout talent in the age group of five to ten years through national-level competitions for priority sports, along the lines of China and Germany. Besides, it vouches for roping in private sector and greater funding made available by the government to create ultra-modern sports facilities.
At the release of the report, an enthusiastic Amitabh Kant, CEO, NITI Aayog claimed, ´There can be a paradigm shift in India´s performance if all of this is implemented.´
The Way Forward
So, what would be the best way ahead?
Chaudhary says, ´Outstanding achievers at the district, state, national and international level need to be paid a monthly remuneration to be able to sustain themselves. Sadly, all our policies have been made not with sportspersons but sports officials in mind,´ she says.
Professor Banerjee adds, ´Now that sports are included in the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) list, corporations can actively invest in infrastrucutre development at grassroots. Revenue generation will ensure proper upkeep of the existing infrastructure.´
- MANISH PANT