Many are talking about the promotion of sports tourism in Manipur, a niche sector in tourism which commands nearly USD 8 billion globally. However, it would be appropriate to understand the term first.
Heather Gibson in 1998 divided sports tourism in three categories- Sports Event Tourism, Celebrity and Nostalgia Sports Tourism and Active Sports Tourism.
Sports Event Tourism refers to the visitors who came to witness sports events. Some of the major events are the Football World Cup, Olympics, etc. Nostalgia and Celebrity sports tourism refers to the visits to sports hall of fame and interacting with eminent sports personalities on a vacation.
Active Sports tourism means those who come to participate in sports and sports events.
On the other hand, Sean Gammon and Tom Robinson in 2003 proposed classification of the sector into two categories - Hard Sports Tourism and Soft Sports Tourism.
Hard sports tourism refers to highly competitive events where spectators come to watch the competition, while Soft sports tourism refers to where tourists join recreational sporting or leisure interests.
Hard Sports events which are famous are the Olympics, Football World Cup, etc while an example of soft sports events can be visitors coming from Japan to India to play a game of golf on the weekend.
Let us look into the assets where Manipur can join in promoting this sector. We still do not have a proper Hall of Fame but the first step for creating an Olympic Park at Sangaithel is on.
However, one is yet to see the concept development plan or the Detailed Project Reports and thus could not make comments. However, as my friend Prof Rajen says, a “Detailed Project report” should not be a “Distorted Project report”.
There are other sports personalities of Manipur who are not Olympians but have huge fan following and they also need to be catered. It is, however, hoped that the Park is developed using Green Concepts using indigenous species so that it can also be showcased as such.
As regards the hard sporting events, there is a need to professionalise the conduct of events so that the participants and the spectators are comfortable. Manipur lacks quality stay facility but with time it has increased and now it is ripe to host major events.
Unfortunately, the conflict within the various sports associations had literally deprived them of hosting major events.
IPL, ISL, Pro-Badminton, Pro-Kabaddi etc have lifted the standard of the games as well as attracting spectators at the national context. But in Manipur, hardly any sporting event with entry tickets finds it difficult to attract spectators, though recent close contact fights are drawing paid spectators.
Even our perennial CC Meet in football has seen reduced spectators as one can watch quality matches on TV or Mobile from a convenient place rather than sit in the hot sunshine to watch semi-professional displays of their skills.
Manipur had hosted various national championships, including the National Games in 1999, where the cost of fooding and lodging of the participants are catered to by the Organisers. In other words there is hardly any economic advantage to the host state, except for the spending by some die hard family members and spectators.
With the Rajasthan based Ananthapura Sports Events Pvt Ltd supporting the first ever North East Women’s Football League under the aegis of the All Manipur Football Association, one of the more competent sports associations, it was hoped that Manipur is moving in the right direction to bring in professionalism in organising sporting events.
The Tournament which started on July 7 is still on but one was shocked to see the violation of the guidelines of FIFA/AIFF, the numbering is too small and no teams seems to have a second uniform so much so that on the first day and in a few other matches, a team has to don bibs of a different colour.
Another more shocking is the inclusion of players registered in Manipur but ply their trade with other states in this tournament.
AIFF have the Central Registration System and a player registered with a club in a state can represent the state where she is registered but in violation of all such guidelines, the tournament was conducted.
It was also shocking that the draw of the fixtures seems to have been done by people who are not aware of the mechanism of developing fixtures, such as the cyclic method or the staircase method, thereby indicating the AMFA was perhaps not involved in the drawing of fixtures and the same was done by some people of the sponsors who have limited knowledge of the game.
With eight teams, a team playing for two consecutive days is totally uncalled for and it impacts on the performance of the players and they are liable to injury. At least day rest or two days rest could have been provided for all the teams between matches. If this is the type of our organisational capacity, it will be difficult to attract good teams and spectators.
An example of football was given above, but in almost all tournaments, the objective seems to be to complete the exercise without hassle. Whether the tournament was conducted to make it into a one which may be replicated again and elsewhere seems never on the agenda.
It is true that some of the National was held with a shoe string budget thereby making it difficult to showcase their ability.
An example of Soft Sports Tourism in Manipur is the International Polo Tournaments for both boys and girls, with perhaps 6 teams in the fray. One team from Manipur, four foreign teams and one from IPA and it is heard that the government is planning to increase the number of participating teams. One question that is put to the government is; from where will the government source the polo ponies?
With perhaps 80-100 polo ponies in the state, the six teams is fine and any increase in the number of teams will tax the ponies and these animals also need to be cared for as the tournaments are to be completed within a prescribed period of days.
Many players from foreign countries come to Manipur not because of the level of the tournament but because they wanted to play in Manipur, the birthplace of modern polo. It can also be said to be a nostalgic sports event. There was once a proposal for a golf course in 2006 but it was hardly followed up and now Mizoram has a good golf course.
The time for the old system of management needs to be reviewed as now professionals who can work full time and bring in resources need to be engaged and the beggar mentality needs to be done away with. The time of the elders like this writer seems over and young dynamic and professionally trained sports managers must be brought in.
All sports organisers will claim that under their Charter, the Law Court cannot interfere but this is mere wishful thinking as the Supreme Court’s order on AIFF was not opposed by FIFA and India was not suspended but given three months’ time to set the house in order.
Under the Indian Constitution to claim that the right to approach the law court cannot be denied by any rules, bye laws by our sports administrator is wishful thinking and they just can’t cut corners. Law courts can be avoided if the decisions are fair, reasonable and in the interest of the game. The number of sports associations of various disciplines are increasing, which need to be nipped in the bud.
Before talking about sports tourism, there is a need to improve our capacity to manage our resources and carry along the other members, players, coaches, referees/umpires, and most importantly the spectators as without them sports just cannot survive.
YAS can moot a proposal to identify a couple of disciplines which can attract spectators and keen participants so that hard sports events on a calendar basis are started. They may be given a specific period for them to be self-sustaining after which funding may be stopped. It does not necessarily mean the most popular game of football; it can be smaller disciplines from the contact sports.
Organising sports events by non professionals hurt the image of the game as more focus is given to which VVIP is attending. Yes to attract at the first instance, star celebrities may be brought in but I remember my distaste when a Bollywood star was given a huge purse for attending the event of handing over the CWG flag in Melbourne in 2006.
What has she got to do except show her pretty face and the huge money given to her for her attendance is just down the drain. Manipur can join in sports tourism provided that it is planned systematically and holistically and executed with sincerity and commitment.
(The views expressed are personal)