With India managing to win only two medals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the tally made India one of the lowest ranked countries in terms of medals per capita. With an aim to improve India’s medal prospects in the future and to ensure that the country wins at least 50 medals at the 2024 Olympics, Niti Aayog has come out with a 20-point plan of action.
Highlighting some of the key areas of improvement, the action plan identifies some of the initiatives that need to be undertaken in order to achieve the ambitious target. Noting that “it is disappointing that a country that has world class talent in various disciplines has not been able to produce champions in the area of sports”, the documents refers to how “compared to previous years, this year witnessed large participation in Olympics. However, only two medals could be bagged.”
Admitting that the country’s performance in the Olympics has witness only “limited improvement” in the last 60 years, it said that this is because India “still does not have a conducive environment for sports to polish the talent of Indian sportspersons, and make them at par with their global counterparts. Efforts need to be undertaken at each level, from family and communities to schools, regional academies, states and national level.”
Niti Aayog also referred to the popular phrase: “Kheloge kudoge to honge kharab, padhoge likhoge to banoge nawab” (If you will play, you shall be spoilt; if you will study, you will live like a prince) to note that there were societal barriers that viewed sports as a lesser field when it comes to pride and prestige.
The action plan has been divided into short term and long term initiatives. These cover a four-to-eight year period and a eight-to-fifteen year period respectively.
On a short term basis, it is essential to “prioritise 10 sports and develop an outcome oriented action plan for each of these sports”, Niti Aayog said, explaining that “countries like Kenya and Jamaica participate in only two Olympics sports but have managed to get a medal tally of 100 and 78 respectively.”
Niti Aayog said that these 10 priority sports should be ones with high winning potential, as well as those in which India has won medals in the past. The action plan should include targets in the next four year cycle, training and coaching schedules to achieve those targets, medical, psychological and drug test schedules, and institutional and private support systems for all categories of players of each sport.
Noting that each action plan should be reviewed after every four years, it suggested that India could take lessons from other countries such as the UK whose performance in the Olympics has significantly improved in the past few decades, from 13 medals in 1968 to 67 medals in 2016. Moreover, it noted that the UK has also ushered in a sports business plan to support high performance sports.
Harnessing indigenous talent
The think tank has called for scouting natural sports talent from inaccessible tribal, rural and coastal areas of the country and nurturing it to excel. Pointing to the importance of harnessing indigenous sports, it also noted how the best performing wrestlers come from Haryana and archers from Jharkhand. Therefore, it has called for identifying and sponsoring talent early. With the funding being very low at Rs 12,000 per annum, it has demanded that rigorous efforts be made to increase the pool of financial resources for these players to attract more people from remote areas.
Since coaching and mentoring are fundamental skills required for the development of any sportsperson, Niti Aayog has recommended hiring more national and international coaches per sport and putting in place a “well-defined and transparent selection criteria”. To ensure that the country does not get saddled with non-performing coaches, it has also suggested an annual review of their performance through a quantitative-cum-qualitative assessment. It has also demanded that their efforts being recognised through certification, scholarships, attractive pay, promotion and other benefits.
Insurance, grievance redressal and doping
Noting that “the fear of being seriously injured is a factor that can adversely affect the competence of sportspersons”, it has also suggested implementing a sports injury insurance scheme which should be open to all categories of sportspersons and provide them with life time insurance between the ages of 5 to 35 years in addition to providing families compensation, in case of loss of life. Furthermore, it suggested insuring sports kits which are growing increasingly expensive.
Niti Aayog has also called for strengthening and scaling up of the 56 existing Sports Authority of India (SAI) training centres. “While these centres have produced the Olympians that qualified for the recent games, they are sometimes prone to negligence, substandard delivery of services and lack of timely disbursement of funds and kits,” it said. It has also demanded that a grievance redressal system be put in place so that children, and in particular girls, do not encounter abuse.
With only a handful of sports academies operating at present, creating more of these to cover all sports has been suggested. “More individual sports academies need to be set up across different parts of India for identified priority sports. These academies should provide a platform for sub-junior, junior and senior players to get expert guidance on all aspects related to their physical and psychological training under one roof,” it said.
Similarly, the study has called for establishing an interactive sports data repository in the country. This, it said, should profile sportspersons and trainees and keep an inventory of infrastructure and support services. It also suggesting maintaining a library of videos of the best international practices of the priority sports to enable coaches to strategise and train sportspersons.
With recent instances of doping in wrestling bringing a bad name to the country, Niti Aayog has also called for implementing the anti-doping measures as suggested by the National Anti-Doping Agency. It has also asked for clamping down on cases of sexual harassment against women and preventing fraud when it comes to age declaration.
Taking a cue from IPL’s success
The report has also noted that the experience of Indian Premier League in India and premier football clubs across the world have shown that investments in marketing and promotion of league tournaments reap benefits in terms of attracting sponsors, popularising the sport and increasing viewership.
Thus it has recommended heavy investments in marketing and advertising tournaments, encouraging movie stars to endorse sports leagues in priority sports, allowing private companies or PSUs to acquire naming rights and making leagues more spectator friendly by keeping the weather and the schedule of other tournaments in mind.
On a medium to long term perspective, Niti Aayog has suggested that efforts be made to identify talent at an early age and to nurture it carefully. It said China’s successful swimmers were nurtured and trained from when they are four or five years old.
So, the report said apart from the SAI’s National Sports Talent Contest Scheme, school sports should also be used to identify and promote talent.
Niti Aayog has also spoken extensively in favour of encouraging development of sports infrastructure through private or public private partnership mode (PPP). It said “limited funding avenues for sports and lack of state of the art facilities make a strong argument for roping in the private sector”.
Elaborating on the issue of how the PPP model could be adopted, it said the Centre, states and civic bodies could provide the viability gap funding: loans can be provided at low interest rates, land grants can be made on long-term lease, permission could be given for developing residential colonies around stadiums and academies, and import duties can be lowered on sports equipment. Manufacturing sports equipment can also be encouraged under the ‘Make in India’ programme in the special economic zones to bring down the cost of sports equipment in the country.