Neeraj Chopra won India a historic gold medal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Chopra has since signed up with more than ten brands.
According to a 2018 FICCI-International Institute of Sports Management study paper, 90 percent of the youth in India think of sports as a reliable career-option. Even if you make allowance for the exaggeration or methodology, and consider the figure only half-true, 45 percent is still a formidable number which should compel the government to prioritise sports like never before.
This could be a reason why of late the government has been paying more attention to sports. The private sector has already taken note of this, and has invested in not just cricket, but in other sports as well. That said, the truth is that unless the government spends generously on sports, it won’t make India a superpower in sports.
The Tokyo Olympics, held in 2021, was India’s best ever show where we came 48th in the medals tally with seven medals in our kitty. For a nation with a billion-plus population this is too small — and many factors can be attributed to this poor show. For example, the complex sports governance structure across India. Like health and education, India spends too little (0.01 percent of its GDP) on sports.
This lack of funds reflects on poor infrastructure and facilities, which in turn is seen in the poor performance of our athletes. This lacuna needs special attention in the upcoming Union Budget.
The lack of funds for our athletes across different sports is one of the primary reasons our athletes fail at the international stage. The allocation of Rs 2,596.14 crore for the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in the 2021-22 Union Budget saw a reduction by Rs 230.78 crore, when compared to the funds granted for the previous year.
To be sure, the government is focusing on developing sports, and according to the Sports Authority of India (SAI), Rs 1,200 crore have been spent through two schemes — the Annual Calendar for Training and Competition (ACTC), and the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) — covering 18 disciplines and over 150 athletes. This has produced results as well: Tokyo Games gold medallist Neeraj Chopra and silver medallist Mirabai Chanu have been beneficiaries of this programme.
That said, numerous studies have emphasised that medal efficiency can achieved by being a bit smarter. Strategic investment by governments and national sports federations on track and field, swimming and other similar sports (which are capex and infrastructure light) is perhaps the best way to get a return in medals.
Focus on Women
The Union government anchors the very important Beti Bachao Beti Padhao campaign, and could add to it that girls must play sports as well. If more girls were to participate in sports, India can accomplish a lot in the sporting arena. The commendable performances of India’s women teams in cricket, hockey, badminton and other sports is an example. Professor Danyel Reiche’s remarkable study argues that promoting women in sports helps nations excel at the Olympics. This means that the fewer the women in a country’s Olympic contingent, the lesser the chances of winning more medals.
According to Reiche this is one of the reasons why China has been winning more medals recently than any country other than the US. Fifty-one percent of China’s Olympic athletes are women, giving it the highest female participation rate in the world. By contrast, many countries have a much lower female participation rate. Brunei, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia included women in their Olympic squads for the first time at the 2012 London Games. Thus, there’s a greater incentive to allocate a bigger budget on our young female population?
A comparison with China (as we in India often like to do) will hurt when it comes to Olympic achievements. In the Tokyo Games, China finished at a commendable second position with 88 medals. India was at a distant 48th position. In 2018, then sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore said in Parliament that the Centre spends about three paise per citizen — the corresponding figure for China was Rs 6 per citizen. To bridge this gap and create sportspersons of international quality, the government needs to spend more, and it is hoped that the upcoming Union Budget will address this concern.
Vimal Kumar is a senior sports journalist who has covered multiple cricket world cups and Rio Olympics in the last two decades. Vimal is also the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide.
Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.