Grassroots or international? The construction of 22 indoor sporting halls for public use in a state whose default weather setting is cold and which is torn by strife? Or, the construction of new stadiums in the national capital that will be used sparingly?

Those are the kind of competing priorities that confront the Union ministry of youth affairs and sports, which is tasked with the responsibility of promoting sports in India and which was handed a budget of 1,575 crore in 2018-19 to do so. Its choice, over the last 20 years, has been clear.

It’s an inherently Indian choice: events and glory. The last time that India organized a large multi-disciplinary international sporting event was the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010, which saw Indian sportspersons reel in a record 101 medals and administrators at many levels being implicated for corruption.

To make those games happen, between 2005-06 and 2010-11, the centre spent 5,882 crore through the ministry of youth affairs and sports to upgrade or set up new sporting venues. The biggest chunk of spending, of 2,875 crore, happened in 2009-10.

That year, the spend unrelated to 2010 Commonwealth Games of this ministry stood at 473 crore. In other words, the funds the centre was channelling into an international event of this scale could have funded the sporting budget of that year six times over.

It could have been channelled to set up good sporting facilities at the grassroots, enable federations of individual sports to widen their scope of activities, incentivize sportspersons with awards and scholarships—all the things the ministry does with its regular annual budget.

It’s a choice that will confront India in the years to come. Last year, the government said it plans to bid for three mega multi-disciplinary sporting events: the 2026 Youth Olympics, the 2030 Asian Games and the 2032 Olympics.

In the last 20 years, a period covering four governments of two different political dispensations, such events have been the only occasion when the ministry has received a spike in allocations for sports. Otherwise, the compounded annual average increase in spend by the ministry on sports for these four terms has been a steady, inflation-beating 9% to 18%.

While this period has seen a widening and deepening of sporting culture—people playing, events being held and spectator interest beyond cricket—it’s difficult to establish a correlation between the centre’s spending and progress in performance. During this 20-year period, India’s medal tally at Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, both of which are held once in four years, has twice seen a surge.

The first was in the 2006 Asian Games, when India’s overall medal count increased from 36 to 53. The second was in the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, when India capitalized on the widely acknowledged home advantage in such events, and doubled its count. However, four years later, it ceded most of those gains. India’s medal count has mostly been range bound, making incremental gains in 2018

Even as the centre is increasing its spend, where it is directing this spend has also evolved, with a greater focus on enabling possibilities for top sportspersons. Thus, the share of funds received by autonomous bodies, the lion’s share of which goes to the Sports Authority of India (SAI), has declined from 63% in 2014-15 to 47% in 2016-17. SAI is the apex national sports body responsible for the development of sport in India and its mandate is to provide enabling infrastructure at multiple levels, including public participation in sports.

Instead, a greater share of the central sports budget is being directed to national sporting federations as assistance. In 2009-10, this figure was 11%. In 2016-17, it stood at 34%.

This money is largely meant for federations to send teams abroad for training and participation in internationals tournaments, for holding international and national tournaments in India, and for procuring sports equipment. Thus, it targets the best sportspersons in the country.

In 2016-17, as many as 42 national sporting federations received support from the Centre. Between 2014-15 and 2016-17, the body that runs the sport of shooting in India has received the maximum assistance ( 42.4 crore). It is followed by hockey, wrestling, and badminton.

Interestingly, the top 10 federations in terms of financial assistance received are among the more prolific in medal returns and five of them also run professional leagues.

(howindialives.com is a database and search engine for public data)

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