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India’s inability to compete in sports outside of cricket is a sad but well-known fact. Despite a huge population, it has produced very few world-class sportspersons. A new paper suggests India can get better at sports if it gives greater priority to spending on coaches than to infrastructure such as stadiums.

The study, by Urvi Khasnis of University of Edinburgh and others, is based on interviews with 25 stakeholders in sports such as athletes, coaches, association heads and ministry officials.

Many world-class facilities have been built recently, for example in Delhi in the run-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games. The government has established training centres under the Sports Authority of India for top athletes. But all this infrastructure only goes so far. As cricketer V.V.S. Laxman said in a 2017 interview, Sachin Tendulkar’s talent was developed by his coach, not by the ground he practised on.

Countries that do well at the Olympics have strong systems to develop coaches. These systems are still very poor in India. Indian coaches find it tough to achieve even the lowest international qualifications. For example, trainee coaches educated at the National Institute of Sports often fail the basic Level 1 coaching course in international athletics, the authors say.

Often, foreign coaches are preferred due to the perception that they know better, even in fields such as badminton that have many successful Indian coaches.

Interviewees also mention that Indian coaches are paid much less than foreign coaches. Indian coaches training national and junior teams in some sports are paid only 30,000–50,000 per month, but foreign coaches get paid six times that or more. As a result, many Indians don’t aspire to enter coaching.

Developing better Indian coaches helps them get better salaries and makes coaching a more lucrative prospect for others.

Also read: “Focus on the people: key stakeholders’ perceptions of elite sport in India and its potential for development"

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