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Sports Development
Published on: Feb. 14, 2020, 10:54 a.m.
India has a sports history going back a thousand years
  • India has around 48 recognised National Sports Federations

By Dr. Shashank Shah. The author is Visiting scholar, ’17 Harvard Business School

India has a sports history that goes back thousands of years. The game of dice was also mentioned in the famous Indian epic – Mahabharata. It is believed that chess, too, originated in India. Ancient Indian texts acknowledge the presence of archery, wrestling, swordsmanship and boxing. Renowned Chinese travellers Hiuen Tsang and Fa Hien wrote of a plethora of sporting activities in India. Swimming, running, and ball games were immensely popular among the students of Nalanda and Taxila (ancient Indian universities).

India first participated in the summer Olympic Games in 1990. We have so far won nine gold medals, seven silver and 12 bronze medals, a total of 28 medals at the Olympics. The Indian Hockey team won eight gold medals between 1928 and 1980. The Indian football team also won in the 1951 and 1962 Asian Games and finished fourth in the 1956 Olympics. The Indian Golf team won the gold at the 1982 Asian Games and a silver in the 2006 edition. India has also won five Kabaddi World Cups.

India has hosted several international sporting events including the Asian Games in 1951 and 1982, Cricket World Cups in 1987, 1996 and 2011, Hockey World Cups in 1982 and 2010, Afro-Asian Games in 2003, Commonwealth Games in 2010, and Kabaddi World Cups in 2004, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. India also hosted its first Formula-One (F-1) race in 2011 at the Buddh International Circuit in the Gautam Buddh Nagar District of Uttar Pradesh.

Cricket is given a de facto national sport status. But parents in India have traditionally emphasised the importance of academics, and hence sports and physical activities are given a backseat. Naturally, institutions do not invest in developing sporting talent. To put India’s Olympic performance in context, Michael Phelps, the US swimmer, has won as many medals (23 gold, three silver and two bronze medals) on his own as India has managed in all its Olympic Games!

India has around 48 recognised National Sports Federations (NSFs). These are mostly headed and/or controlled by politicians. But the administrative body of India’s most popular sport, cricket, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is not an NSF. It is a society registered under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration Act. BCCI’s status is not conferred by any statute or order of the government. It enjoys the monopoly status over cricket by virtue of being a first mover. It receives minimal funding from the government, but is the richest cricket board in the world. 

The situation is similar when it comes to performance of different states in sports. Haryana has been at the forefront when it comes to sports performance among states. From the Indian contingent of 81 athletes at the 2012 London Olympics, 18 hailed from Haryana including all top boxers and wrestlers. In the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Haryana contributed no less than 22 of the 38 gold medals that India won. A lot of this credit should go to the Haryana government which incentivises sports participation with various prizes and promotes participation of sports at school level itself. Even in the 2016 Rio Olympics, Haryana and Punjab accounted for almost a third of the participants from India. Karnataka and Kerala also have significant representation after Punjab and Haryana. Unfortunately, larger states like Gujarat and Bihar failed to send any representation.

The ministry of sports was allocated a budget of Rs.1,943 crore in the 2017-18 Union budget as compared to Rs1,592 crore the previous year, an increase of Rs351 crore. The Sports Authority of India (SAI), entrusted with the task of conducting national camps has been granted Rs481 crore. The assistance to different NSFs is Rs302 crore.

While it is true that substantial investment is required to win medals, it’s also important to note that implementation of programmes and intelligent planning is required to make sure that the money is spent productively. A correlation between the money spent and the medals that India has won would provide greater clarity.

Between 2008 and 2013, the government allotted around Rs10,000 crore for sports. During this period, India won only 174 medals (Olympics, Commonwealth Games and Asian Games). This translates to a cost of more than Rs50 crore a medal! This could serve as a representation of how poorly programmes are implemented and funds spent.

A Parliament Panel Report states that India invests just 3 paise on a person each day for sports. In contrast, the US spends Rs.22 per person per day and the UK and Jamaica spend 50 and 19 paise respectively. The US follows a different pattern of funding where athletes depend largely on private funding. Only 10 per cent of the US Olympic Committee’s funding is spent on athletes. China, on the other hand, is known for aggressive state sponsored funding and promotion of sports.

Disabled sports, also known as adaptive sports, para sports or sports for the paraplegic, are sports played by persons with a disability, including physical and intellectual disabilities. In many cases, regular sports are adapted for the disabled. India secured four medals (two golds, one silver and one bronze) at the 2016 Paralympic Games at Rio. On the other hand, India won just two medals at the regular Olympic Games in 2016.

Special Olympics

India’s performance at the Special Olympics has been superlative. Special Olympics is for athletes with intellectual disabilities, while the Paralympics is predominantly for competitors with physical disabilities. In March 2017, Special Olympics athletes from 105 countries competed in winter sports in Austria. India won a whopping 73 medals including 37 gold, 10 silver and 26 bronze medals in this sporting event. In the 2015 Special Olympics Summer Games that were held in Los Angeles, India won 173 medals that included 47 gold, 54 silver and 72 bronze medals. In eight World Summer Games and five World Winter Games between 1987 and 2017, Special Olympics participants from India have won 359 gold, 353 silver and 423 bronze medals, bringing the combined count to 1,135 medals.


Khelo India National Programme for Development of Sports

Khelo India is a central sector scheme introduced in 2016-17. The earlier Rajiv Gandhi Khel Abhiyan (a centrally sponsored scheme introduced in 2014-15) is merged in this scheme. Two other sport projects, Urban Sports Infrastructure Scheme (USIS) and National Sports Talent Search Scheme (NSTSS) have also been merged with Khelo India. When the scheme is fully implemented across India, the estimated expenditure over five years (2017 to 2022) is expected to be around Rs27,000 crore. The outlay for the scheme in the 2017-18 budget is only Rs350 crore.

Mission XI Million

This is the biggest school sport outreach programme launched in early 2017. The aim is to take the game of football to 1.1 crore children across India. That would mean reaching out to over 37 cities and 12,000 schools across all 29 states in India. The programme is working in three phases: seminars, in-school activities and city-level football festivals. For the year 2016-17 Rs30 crore has been allotted to this programme.

Scheme of Assistance to National Sports Federations (NSFs)

It is a scheme for conduct of National Championships at Senior, Junior, Sub-Junior level for men and women, conduct of international tournaments in India, participation of sportspersons in international sports competitions, organising coaching camps, engagement of foreign coaches and procurement of sports equipment. The assistance to different NSFs in the 2017-18 budget is Rs302 crore.

National Sports Development Fund (NSDF)

The NSDF was established in 1998. It supports sportspersons by providing opportunities to train under coaches of international repute with technical, scientific and psychological support and in getting exposure to international competitions. The fund receives donations from various government and private organisations. Even though the fund was established more than 18 years ago, the contributions it received was Rs158 crore (2016 data). Out of Rs150 crore, Rs50 crore was donated by the BCCI.

Olympic Action Plan

In 2016, the NITI Aayog presented a 20-point action plan to identify initiatives required for India to achieve a target of 50 medals in the 2024 summer Olympics. The plan is to target a group of priority sports to develop an outcome-oriented action plan. Countries like China (potential swimmers are identified at ages 4 to 5) and Germany (footballers are chosen from successful youth academies of under-12 year) have been successful at identifying talent at a very young age. The seriousness of the ‘catch them young’ focus is also evident in the plan as concurrent focus on sports and physical education in schools is also being given. The plan also encourages private and corporate participation in many ways.

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