It could only happen in India that the citizenship of a world champion such as Viswanathan Anand would be questioned by bureaucracy. In saying this I don’t advocate the negation of government procedures but lament the fact that the sods in babudom just didn’t know he had won the world title as an Indian earlier this year too!
Dovetail this incident with all that has been emerging in the public domain about the Commonwealth Games over the past couple of months and the picture of Indian sport becomes bleaker. Some of the stories—leaked, planted, investigated—may have been exaggerated, yet their sheer volume suggests the rottenness that has seeped into the system.
Am I utterly despondent at this state of affairs? Yes and no. On the one hand, it seems that Indian sport is one big, black hole. But every now and then one sees a blip of light at the end of the tunnel. The achievements of Anand, Saina Nehwal, Tejaswini Sawant, Gagan Narang—to name a few—earlier this year, and of Arjun Atwal just the other day, provide a sliver of hope.
Also See | The governance structure (Graphic)
The proposed national sports council (NSC) (Graphic)
These achievements suggest that India not only has the talent, but also the ambition and drive to overcome heavy odds to succeed. What if this talent was harnessed and nurtured properly, systematically, with a vision in place and a structure driven by effective systems and processes to actualize this vision?
Demographics and the sustained economic growth projected for the next decade should actually facilitate India’s becoming a sporting giant. With a huge young population and all the infrastructure, support services and expertise money can afford becoming available, what can prevent India from becoming a “sporting” nation is only government sloth and public indifference.
My contention is that the dismal state of Indian sports is not so much because of graft as poor governance and little accountability. Not seen as a priority sector, most federations, leading up to the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), have become dens of maladministration and related shenanigans, rather than focusing on excellence and results.
In order to stem the rot, sport needs to be saved as much as possible from political interference and government control and handed over to professional management. My recommendation is to do away with the sports ministry and replace it with a National Sports Council, or NSC (see charts) which will formulate policy and oversee the execution of the blueprint.
This is not as radical as may seem: The US and Australia, for instance, don’t have sports ministries. Indeed, the success of the Australian Sports Commission—from which ideas for the structure shown in the graphic have been taken liberally—shows how the government need only play the role of providing a vision and funds. The sports council takes over from there.
A sports ministry is a Communist-era idea which never worked in India and has outlived its political benefits as well. The ministry is ineffective. Federations spurn its directives with impunity and politicians themselves see it as a punishment posting. How then can it ever achieve anything? And should it surprise us that nepotism and corruption currently run rife in our federations?
We also need, and this is vital, to have a national auditing body under the Sports Council which will not only monitor the progress of the federations—for everything from financial responsibility to results—but also lay down best practices and standards.
None of this can be effective if talent is not identified and nurtured from a very young age. A National School and Collegiate Sports Council is the next logical step. For sporting prowess to be taken seriously by both parents and educational institutions, a career in sport has to be more real and accessible than the generally held impossible dream of becoming one of 11 players in the Indian cricket team. An Indian Institute of Sport—on the lines of our famed technology institutes—is a long-overdue idea and will be a sure way of getting a sports career in India on a professional tack.
The salient features of such a National Sports Council:
a) The NSC to report to, say, the President (we don’t want the PM to be castigated for spending time on useless activities) after the sports ministry is dissolved. It would be funded by the government, but would run independently.
b) The NSC would look at infrastructure, education, competitions, audit/compliance of federations, interface with the IOA, health and human resource development (HRD) ministries, to pursue a national vision.
c) The NSC board would consist of people from various strata of society. The Australian Sports Commission chairman, for instance, is Warwick Smith, who is also chairman of ANZ Bank in New South Wales; other board members include technocrats, former Olympians, a media person, etc.
d) The NSC would be run by a CEO, who would be accountable to the board/council.
e) There would be a big thrust on school and collegiate sport, run independently by the NSC, which could be used to compute a National Health Index (which would show how fit and healthy the nation is).
f) The audit and compliance section would look at money spent as well as the progress made by federations. A rating system could come into place. Poorly performing federations would have their budgets slashed. Federations could look at swelling their kitties through private sponsorship for events/rewarding athletes.
g) The Indian Institute of Sport (IIS) would get funding from the HRD ministry. IIS would look into aspects of nutrition, fitness, management of sports, sports science/medicine, performance parameters and development of elite athletes, as devised by the NSC.
h) Crucially, the autonomy of various federations and the IOA, which reports consistently to the world bodies governing the sport, would not be compromised. But the new system would make them accountable for the money/grants they receive from the government, increasing transparency
I must confess here that this idea is not new or novel even in the Indian context. In the early 1980s there used to be the All India Sports Council (AISC), headed by Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, which was dissolved in 1984 because none of its proposals would get a move on. In July 2002, the AISC was revived with Vijay K. Malhotra as chairman (with the rank of cabinet minister), but has remained moribund.
The problem is philosophical and hence structural: If the NSC is reporting to the ministry, it will invariably run into a political logjam. If it is allowed leeway, and with the right people at the helm, there is hope that India might still become a sporting giant.
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.
Write to Ayaz at firstname.lastname@example.org