Government is a spoilsport

By, Sibin Sabu (2010-14 Mechanical Batch) and Rahul V Kumar*

This article first appeared as an Op-editorial in The Hindu Business Line on 31 Jan, 2015 (Click here to read the published article)

Summary: Sports federations are seedy political fiefdoms. Corporates can inject funds, accountability and popular appeal

India’s growth story in sports has always been difficult to comprehend. How did a nation of 1.3 billion become synonymous with a single sport? While there are several factors that has contributed to this condition, the most important one would undoubtedly be the administration.

India has more than 70 recognised national sports federations (NSF), of which 38 have politicians at the helm and more often than not, when a politician gets elected as the head of a sports federation, he clings on to that post for the rest of his life.

Interestingly, the administrative body of India’s most popular sport, cricket — the Board Of Control For Cricket In India (BCCI) — stands out because it is not an NSF.

The BCCI case points out that becoming an NSF makes no difference to the development of sports in the country.

Minimum government

The grants the BCCI received from the government, if any, were minimal. It shows a sport can become successful even without government funding.

No sport has thrived under political leadership; instead, the combined involvement of corporates and sportspersons will lead sports to greater heights.

When that happens, the sport will be forced to auto-correct and innovate, leading to greater accountability and transparency.

In this context, the recent Supreme Court verdict on former BCCI president N Srinivasan’s conflict of interest becomes significant.

The reason the court was able to interfere was because of the ‘private involvement’ in the sport, which had helped it gain popularity and in-turn resulted in greater public attention.

The court may not get an opportunity to take a similar stance against a government body or a politician because similar conflicts of interest in other sports go largely unnoticed due to limited public attention on those sports.

The conduct of our National Games is an example. The preparatory exercise for the Olympics in India comes in the form of the National Games which is meant to be conducted once every two years.

However, the indefinite delays in the conduct of these Games makes one doubt whether it has become more of a namesake exercise.

Time to move on

If the National Games is not conducted on time, who can be held responsible and against whom can action be initiated? If a corporate was responsible for the conduct of the games, action could have been initiated against them for causing the delay.

However, that is not the case. It is the government, its departments and the political leaders that are responsible for the current state of affairs.

When we allow private players to run a sporting event, it brings in numerous advantages — the foremost being accountability and increase in popularity.

We had the AIFA organising the I-League for several years, but the sport became popular only when a corporate introduced the Indian Super League (ISL).

It can also be said that professionalism can be infused when there is larger corporate involvement.

If we allow the private sector to organise the National School Games and the National Games, it would have made these events more attractive.

It is time we considered phasing out our old-school ‘politically’ run sports federations and ‘irrelevant’ competitions. Even the National Games has become more or less extinct in its purpose and effectiveness.

An evaluation of the amount allocated to sports and its outcome is also necessary. The correlation between the money spent on sports and medals reveals a staggering fact. Between 2008 and 2013, the government allocated ₹10,023 crore for sports.

During this period India won only 174 medals; if we add-up the medals won in the Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. This means each medal costs more than ₹50 crore.

Apart from the National Games, the country has also conducted several events such as the Commonwealth Games.

But what is the condition of all the sporting infrastructure and facilities that were created for these events? How has it been utilised, if it has been utilised at all? Who should make sure that it is utilised?

Sport as a career

Privatisation of sports would also put an end to the biggest challenge facing non-cricketing sports in India — the attractiveness of sport as a career opportunity.

Our sports federations largely live on the nominal grant they receive from the government.

Our athletes are often criticised for their job-oriented approach towards sports. Private companies can solve this crisis and make sports a popular career option.

They will also find means to incentivise sports — as ISL (football), IPTL (tennis) and Pro-Kabaddi League have demonstrated. For that to happen, the government has to let go of its stranglehold on sports administration in India.

Sports is a major component in shaping up the brand image of a country as a global power, as it is evident in the case of China, the US, Australia, South Korea et al. So, it is inevitable that a competitive sports culture emerges in this country.

A more transparent and accountable system devoid of bureaucratic delays and red tapes will definitely lead to the popularity of sports and glory landing in podium finishes more often than ever.

*The writers are with the Centre for Public Policy Research, Cochin

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