Sports is no longer what we had seen in our teens. Then we all played for the love of the game and had never even in our wildest dreams thought that it might be a profitable vocation or will get jobs or become celebrities. Every evening we gathered at the nearest playground and played till we dropped from exhaustion.
Most of the sports administrators then were either former players or followers of the game. But time had changed and now sports is a multi-billion dollar business and most of the administrators are either politicians or businessmen or bureaucrats; those who had the power but unfortunately many of them do not even know the basic of the game nor had the time to devote. Despite the many odds, Indian sports is slowly getting recognition but at a very slow pace.
The Ministry of YAS had come out with the Sports Code, which many National Sports Federations (NSFs) do not like, as those in power do not want their hegemony to end, but by not supporting those which do not abide it is slowly but reluctantly being adopted. For cricket, the Supreme Court had to intervene and the recommendations of the Lodha Committee had even ultimately to be modified to accommodate some of the claims. Some thoughts on ways to improve the standard of sports are as below.
The administration of the National Sports Federations (NSF) and the State Associations (SAs) need to change. The elected office bearers must function as policy framers and the actual implementation of the decisions needs to be carried out by competent professionals. One important qualification for such professionals should be that they should have followed the game and have a passion for it. If passion is not there, it will be just like performing any other 9 to 5 job; without zeal and accountability. The bane of Indian sports is the conflict of interest.
At one time, the Indian cricket team was selected not on the competency of the players but through zonal quota. Indian cricket could come to the top only when this system is discontinued. Even in measurable events, there has been manipulation so that the best are sidelined. Then can one surmise the position in non-measurable events? The tendency of a President of an SA continuing as such after elected as President of a NSF need to go as this indicate a serious conflict of interest. This should also apply to lower levels. Conflict of interest must be done away with.
The tendency to pick someone as a national coach, while he continues to coach a club or a state team must be done away with. National or state coaches must be selected on tenure basis and he should not be associated with any club or state team during his tenure. He should be provided with reasonable remuneration for the job. The concept of volunteerism in sports is passé. One can volunteer for some time but not his entire lifetime.
Pay well and extract the best should be the motto. With corporate houses showing interest in sports; support from their CSR fund can provide the necessary sources of fund for the NSFs and SAs. This is with a rider that they should run their organisation with transparency, accountability and competency. In other words, the management system needs a major overhaul. The elected office bearers must get funds to support their associations rather than crying that they lack fund. Those who can’t better resign and pave way for more competent people. Ambush marketing must be avoided as it will lead to drying up of corporate sponsors.
Sheer talent and hard work can no longer produce or sustain world class athletes. They need the support from sports science. India still does not even have a top class High Performance Lab (HPL); there are a few but not of the required standard; and without scientific back up a talent may shine like a meteor but cannot sustain. The competition at the top is very tough.
There should be a broad base of players with the elite sportsperson at the top, which will be few. But those who love the game but cannot reach the acme must be provided with alternative livelihood, which will be in the support system. This is what the National Sports University must do providing courses in the different disciplines of sports science. One can realise the competition at the top level in that Lance Armstrong put in 16 hours of training every day, including 4 hours of theory and counselling with a consumption of more than 8000 Kcal per day. And he was a cancer survivor!
Code for combating age fraud is in place as it hampers the sports. Training load is designed based on age and if a player commits age fraud he will not be put through the appropriate load and will not grow naturally in the sport. On the other hand he will discourage those who do not commit age fraud beating them in age group competition. Despite the code, there was a news a few years back that a player in a previous ISL was claimed to be the youngest player ever to score a goal in ISL, though he was found overage in a national age group tournament three years back and was penalised by banning for two years. He was found to have added only one year in his age despite the passage of three years! Such cheats must be dealt with exemplary punishment to discourage others.
Besides, the news now and then of doping must also be dealt severely. An enquiry must be conducted expeditiously to fix responsibility and firmly dealt with. Any NSFs or SAs not WADA or NADA compliant must not be provided any public funding. The tendency of well connected officials misbehaving with the players or referees or even spectators in public must be penalised severely as they are the one who will drive away supporters and sponsors.
Khelo India is a comprehensive scheme but there is serious concern as the element of passion, transparency and sincerity seems lacking. Beautiful schemes on paper; falls flat on implementation. The problem India is facing is lack of quality playfields. In urban areas, there is hardly any ground where children can play.
Many of the schools do not even have a volleyball court. Thus it will be wishful thinking that our children will play. The system of having high quality sports infrastructure at the national level; quality sports infrastructure at state level, and so on and so forth till a playfield is developed in each and every village is good on paper. But creating and maintaining infrastructure is costly. Huge infrastructure were created but not properly used or maintained.
Funds for creating assets can be tapped from CSR of corporate bodies, MP and MLA local area development funds. But a mechanism must be devised so that it generates sufficient money for its maintenance. One system will be to allow a local club to look after it and they may charge fees for its usage.
The adoption of the transfer system where on transfer of a player, its original club gets a share will improve the financial stability of local clubs. This will encourage small clubs to continue providing training to youngster and maintenance of infrastructure. A recent decision of AIFF to ensure that smaller feeder clubs will get transfer fee will be a major boost. The tendency to make rules to benefit a few rich clubs kills the game and the rules must be unbiased.
As India is a huge country with almost all the races found, it was no easy task to prioritised. But priority games have been identified where our standard is at par or almost at par with the best in the world. These games were provided better funding. Schemes like Quest for Gold, Target Olympic Podium, etc have provided opportunities to our elite sportsperson the best of training including in foreign countries.
Manipur’s performance in the National Games in 1999 was very good because emphasis was given to specific games where our strength lies. There are certain games where we can compete with the best provided proper training and facilities are provided. At present performances in these games are low as funding is lacking but on providing better inputs our players can shine. The continuous harping that the state is not providing sufficient fund need to go as the SAs and NSFs must tap resources from other sources also. They should not continue as lotus eaters and waiting for the manna to fall. Identification of priority games must be done with proper research and by experts and not by bureaucrats or politicians as in done in Manipur for the districts which left many confounded and unhappy.
Coaches need better exposure and they must be exposed to the best practices and sent for refresher or orientation courses to countries which are known for their prowess in that particular game. Hierarchy of coaches must be trained with more coaches in the grass root level, and slowly prune down till there are a few at the elite level. Coaches must also understand that respect is earned and can’t be demanded.
Most of our players come from low middle class or poor family and they need the support for even proper nourishment. One can’t expect world class performance when the Hb count is only 12 or 13 mg%. Nutrition from a young age must be ensured if we want our players to perform at the world arena. Thus talent hunt is mandatory and those talented players must be nurtured from a young age.
If India wants to achieve more at the international level including Olympics, it is better to talk less and work more through a proper and scientific system. The Chintan Shivir recently held at Imphal seem to be in the opposite. People who love the game must manage the show. Otherwise a person who does not even knows the rule of the game or able to devote time, can’t lead to greater heights.
(The views expressed are personal)