As the late John Wood nonce quoted “Sports do not build character. They reveal it”. I couldn’t agree more with the relevance of his message in today’s time.
There is nothing better than sports when it comes to uniting a nation like India with its rich cultural diversity and multiple regional recreational games. Sports has the unique ability to transcend religious and cultural barriers and all other factors that may divide us. I firmly believe that playing sports always helps in building a positive character, imbibe values of teamwork, in addition to sparking physical and mental development.
India continues to churn out many champions of sport whose laurels have helped put India on the sporting world stage. However, as an ardent sports lover myself, I believe that the vision for sports development in the country will be unfulfilled without a comprehensive strategic framework.
In a country of 1.3 billion people, the popularity of only one game ‘cricket’ seems like a paradox. For instance, I am a football fan based in Kolkata, a city where most people eat, drink and breathe football. Therefore, it amazes me when people say Indians only love “Cricket and Bollywood”. Agreed, Indian cricket has done us proud but there are other sporting disciplines aside from cricket and even football which have the potential of creating local and international champions. But this will be possible if these sports (Eg: Indian hockey, basketball, kabaddi, volleyball, archery, shooting, athletics, swimming, wrestling, table tennis.) are given adequate attention and investment in terms of infrastructure and training talent.
My thoughts were echoed by the report Federated Up by FICCI and Koan Advisory. The report aptly focuses on building a robust sporting ecosystem through organized funding, good governance and administration, talent and infrastructure development for multiple sports and by providing additional resources such as medical support. Another important aspect, I came across in the report, was the emphasis on improving capabilities and skills of our sportspeople, especially when it comes to participation in premier global competitions.
What I think about the suggested PPP model
The report unravels glaring insufficiencies in sports funding by central and state governments and the need to clearly demarcate responsibilities held by various sports organizations at the state and national level for effectively allocating resources towards sporting activities. So far, as mentioned earlier, private sporting leagues have invested a lot in terms of giving several athletes financial security and recognition. Further, media rights were the largest contributor to revenues of sports federations.
Many of us are aware of public-private partnerships or the PPP model for Government projects, particularly in the infrastructure domain. I believe exploring a similar model for Indian sports could have a positive effect as well. Several leading corporates have done their bit over the years. Tata, Mahindra, Reliance and many other private sector entities have pumped in millions in sponsorships for teams and athletes over the years not to mention providing employment for sporting personalities. However, such efforts should be concerted by bringing all sporting disciplines under one roof where the Authorities join private companies under a PPP model. Current adhoc efforts should be replaced by such a model which supports multiple sports.
An effective PPP system will help generating sources of funding to develop talent across each of these sporting disciplines in an organized manner improve sporting infrastructure in the country, in addition to creating a proper framework for grooming athletes and to compete and succeed in global events.
Agreed, the Government requires funding on a massive scale to make things more organized in the sports sector. This is where the recommended PPP model comes in. Specialized multi-discipline sporting centres can be built across almost all major Tier-1, Tier-2 and even Tier-3 cities and towns in India along with peripheral areas and fringes of major metros. These centres should be equipped with highly advanced coaching, adequate infrastructure and most importantly, proper supervision (dietary, medical and mental health) along with fitness facilities, swimming pools, accommodation and everything else required by the athletes chosen to be members of these elite centers.
The Government can also consider a dedicated Sports Mission through a National Sports Policy that not only looks for Olympic or Asian Games glory but focuses on holistic development of sports and the sporting culture across the country. This policy could lay down a clearly articulated PPP model where leading corporates and MNCs can be incentivized to adopt teams, players, coaching centres and also partner in building sports infrastructure in a large-scale manner.
Corporate funding could also increase if every corporate is asked to include sports funding as a part of their CSR spends for the year.
Corporates can be encouraged to adopting sports centres under their own banners. This also makes for good corporate branding as well and will motivate corporates to take personal interest in grooming sportspersons to compete and win in international sporting events and competitions. Some solutions to address the Achilles Heel of Indian Sports – Good governance, is a must along with ample funding.
As highlighted in the report, adequate funding will help federations thrive and give a leg-up to various sporting initiatives undertaken by them across the country. It was surprising to note that in spite of sports being a state subject, most states end up allocating less than even 1% of GSDP (Gross State Domestic Product) for the same. This definitely needs to change. and allocation by states towards sports infrastructure and activities must increase in the coming years.
There must also be a clear delegation of responsibilities amongst National Sports Federations with regard to development of sporting talents and fund mobilization. Some thought must be given to promotion of athletes. Coming to funding, grants, while being a tertiary revenue source for federations, cannot be relied upon entirely. There must be an attempt to tap media rights and other advertising revenues since media rights generate 31% of overall revenues in the entire sports economy at present.
There could be some incentivization for sub-national leagues and sporting tournaments to draw the best local talent. I feel the Government could consider making sports mandatory at the school-level in some form. So many talented athletes blossom while in school but fade out due to lack of proper coaching, recognition and discipline alike. The Central and State Governments can work together and consider integrating sporting activities with learning other subjects through the respective Education Ministries. Sports should be actively recognized and rewarded at the school level, and school coaches should identify the right talent and recommend them to state and national level associations respectively. Proper scouting and coaching at school and college levels is a must along with proper avenues such as training camps and the like.
Top athletes can be identified and grouped into special frameworks as “champions” for competing at international events. They should be coached and groomed accordingly through special and advanced training. This is where the Government needs to act as a catalyst to ensure the future growth and prosperity of Indian sports. Simply churning out athletes is a robotic exercise; we need to go beyond that, fill in the funding gaps and take a micro-level approach to things. Only then will we will have well-rounded, accomplished champions of sports who will do the country proud.
I found the report to be both practical and enlightening and urge both policymakers and government to consider the challenges and recommendations tabled therein in a positive manner..
To conclude, rounding off, the gap in funding is certainly a major hurdle to overcome for Indian sports. I feel it is best if some more attention is paid by the authorities with a view towards grooming, promoting and taking care of our best sporting talent, in addition to enabling a robust framework for the development of suitable infrastructure and other training resources to build athletes into world champions. After all, sports not only showcases the best of our nation but also the soul of champion, i.e. an indomitable drive and desire to excel amidst all odds and limitations!