“When we talk about the Olympics we do feel sad at the medal tally. But we need to create the right atmosphere to encourage athletes. It is essential to be positive about our athletes. Let us not worry about the results.” This is what Prime Minister Narendra Modi had to say recently in his Mann Ki Baat address to the nation.
Modi, over the past few months, has repeatedly highlighted the importance of sports in some of his addresses to the country. Most significantly, the PM, on at least twice, has talked about the U17 FIFA World Cup to be held in India next year.
This is obviously a major morale boost, not only for the U17 World Cup organisers but for Indian football as well, that too at a unique time when Indian domestic football is in a state of crisis.
But, despite Narendra Modi’s verbal support, there hasn’t been any significant change for sports in India Central government witnessed the change back in 2014. Here is a look at some of the major developments in the sports industry in India under Modi sarkar.
Budgetary allocations for sports from the Indian government have always been like a consolation prize, keeping an eye on India’s size and sporting demographics. The total outlay never able to cross the Rs. 1,000 crore mark prior to 2008-09.
In 2009-10, Central government allotted more than Rs. 3,000 crore for sports but a vast majority of it was splashed out in the organization of the Delhi Commonwealth Games. Since then, the annual allocation has hovered near the Rs.1,000 crore figure.
Since forming the government, there has been an improvement in the overall allocation, but a minimum amount. The current budget has seen a total allocation of Rs. 1,592 crore, up from the Rs. 1,541.13 crore set aside in 2015.
While the government has started the groundwork on a new Sports University in Manipur, the total spending on sports still remains hardly effective in improving the current state of affairs.
A confused SPORTS MINISTER
Sarbananda Sonowal took charge as the Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports after the NDA’s victory in the 2014 General Election. Things, however, were far from smooth during his two-year tenure at the ministry.
During the last six months of his tenure, Sonowal, now the Chief Minister of Assam, was seen more often than not campaigning in his home state ahead of the Assembly polls.
Moreover, the Sports Ministry, at times, showed little understanding of competitive sports under Sonowal’s governance. As for example, the ministry, earlier this year, tried to force ace shuttler Parupalli Kashyap into participating in the South Asian Games in Assam, at a time when he was returning from an injury and had just 12 weeks to qualify for the Olympics.
More recently, during the Sushil Kumar controversy, when the wrestling star called for a trial for selection to the Olympics, the Sports Ministry refused to step in and mediate.
PM Narendra Modi although recently took to Twitter to laud Sonowal’s performance. “There were polls; he was a CM candidate but Sarbananda Sonowal performed his duty as a sports minister. This is a big thing,” he said. That, however, will do little to defend Sonowal from what has been an underwhelming two years in charge of the ministry.
Despite calls from various quarters for 2004 Olympic medal-winning shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore to be handed the position, the Modi government has opted for Jitendra Singh as the successor to Sonowal.
It remains to be seen if Singh can improve on his predecessor’s performance during his time in charge.
RED-TAPISM IN TOP SCHEME
The Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme was initially launched by the government to provide financial support to Olympic hopefuls. But in reality, the scheme has been shrouded by red-tapism, with many athletes complaining about the lack of support from the government in releasing the funds.
“I submitted my application and other documents to the ministry in August but they sat on the files. Only after media pressure, the files started moving. But the response lasted for a short time.
“I had to keep pursuing. It’s not easy for an athlete to train, compete and then run to babus. The government finally sanctioned it on 15 October, but till now I haven’t got a single penny,” national shotput champion Inderjeet Singh was quoted as saying by New Indian Express last year.
A number of athletes threw their support to Singh and claimed to face similar issues with the TOP scheme. When asked about the athletes’ grievances, Sarbananda Sonowal had this to say: “My Ministry is very clear about this. They have to communicate with us. Whatever their problem is, we are ready to support them fully so that they can give their best.”
STILL TIME FOR CHANGE
Last year the government had constituted the All India Council for Sports (AICS) as an advisory body to the Sports Ministry. The V K Malhotra-headed body made some recommendations that included an allocation of at least Rs. 12,500 crore for the current financial year.
Malhotra himself argued that a country of 1.25 billion people required a per capita spending of Rs. 100 on sports, rather than the current rate of Rs.7-8. However, his recommendations failed to get the notice of the Sports Ministry, as a mere hike of Rs. 50.87 crore was seen in the budget earlier this year.
It remains to be seen whether AICS can play a more influential role in the Sports Ministry in the coming years, but its recommendations do need to be taken note of by the Central ministry.
If you wish to defend the NDA government, you can say, two years were hardly enough time to significantly improve the state of affairs of sports in India. Although there hasn’t been much to cheer for during this period, in terms of policy overhaul, there is still ample time for the Modi government to turn things around over the next three years.