Policy To Improve Sports Performance

Here is how India’s sports policy can help turn our CWG medals into Olympics medals

By Adarsh Vinay

India just won 66 medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (26 Gold, 20 Silver and 20 Bronze). We finished third in the overall rankings, behind Australia (198 medals) and England (136). We could say third place is definitely an improvement considering how we have consistently finished fifth or sixth in previous editions (except in 2010 when the tournament was held on home soil and several countries/athletes pulled out due to security concerns).  But the big question is: where does this put us in our preparation for the 2020 Olympics? How many of these medals at the Gold Coast will translate into medals in Tokyo two years from now?

As expected, we performed best in Shooting and Weightlifting. We won 9 medals in Weightlifting including 5 gold medals while Shooting earned us 15 medals including 6 Golds. But realistically speaking, how many of these athletes can hope to win medals at the next Olympics. Our return from the global event has been dismal to say the least. Having won 3 medals at Beijing 2008, we doubled our tally to 6 during London 2012. But we were out of our depths at Rio 2016, winning just 2 medals, neither of which were Gold. With a country with a population of over 1.2 billion, the inability to win even 1 gold medal is appalling to say the least. So what is it exactly that needs to be done to turn this situation around? What exactly goes into our Sports Policy and how should it be reformed to help our athletes win some medals?

Well, for starters, our Sports Policy is nothing to be too proud of. Ace badminton player Pankaj Advani says India’s Sports Policy does not even focus on the athletes. “All I can tell you is that sportsperson has to be the centre of focus in sports policy and in India we have not reached that stage,” Advani once remarked, talking to PTI.

Former India hockey captain and current Congress MLA in Punjab Parghat Singh shares Advani’s sentiments. Talking to Business Standard, he spoke about how India should look at China’s Sports Policy if we are able to achieve success.

China spends between 10-15% of its budget on sports. Over there, the sports budget is spent on a 3-level sports promotion plan where over 9,00,000 children of the ages between 3-13 are selected for sports.From this, 90,000 are taken to the specialist level and 9,000 of them are further picked for super specialist sports.

In stark contrast, India spends just 0.07% of its total budget on sports and then we sit and wonder why we don’t seem to be winning any medals at the Olympics!

Singh definitely has a point there but we have to keep in mind the fact that ours is a developing nation and that we cannot match nations like China and USA in its financial might when it comes budget allocation for sports. But there are several large scale changes we can make to our existing Sports Policy to move closer to desired results.

It needs to be noted that for 37 years after Independence, we did not even have a Sports Policy in place. It is only after the organising of the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi that India realized we urgently required a Sports Policy and quickly drafted one. It has been revised several times since then but major flaws and uneven budget allocations continue to persist which impedes us in our quest for medals.

It was noted that our approach to sports was lacking in three key areas: there was a lack of infrastructure, there was no encouragement for youngsters especially in rural areas to take up sports either as a leisure activity or as a profession and there was no organized system when it came to locating talent.

Keeping all this in mind, the Sports Policy saw some major revamping in 2015 with the proposal of Khelo India. It suggested the combination of the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Abhiyan (which was a combination of the Yuva Krida and Khel Abhiyan), the Urban Sports Infrastructure Scheme and the National Sports Talent Search System Programme.

Khelo India focuses on three major aspects: the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Abhiyan is all about providing quality infrastructure in rural areas and encouraging a sporting culture across the country, the  Urban Sports Infrastructure Scheme does the same in urban areas and the National Sports Talent Search System Programme focuses on identifying talent at every age group and promoting them to the highest level.

While on a broad scale, this division makes sense, it needs to be kept in mind that while we might be a developing nation, we are also one of the youngest nations in the world when it comes to age. According to the 2015 Sports Policy, almost 65% of our population is under the age of 35 and 27.5% of our total population is aged between 15 and 29. In other words, we have a vast amount of youth at our disposal in our search for international medals and unearthing the most talented gems and training them to compete at the highest level should be our prime focus.

As of right now, our Sports Policy focusses on competitions at four levels (block, district, state and school) and 5 age groups (6-12, 12-18, 18-36, 36-50, 50+). While the latter two are to promote health living among our citizens, the first three are nurtured keeping international competition and medals in mind. But major flaws in our policy impedes the proper functioning of these competitions.

One of the major problems we face is that the Indian Constitution states that development of sports is a state subject. But several states in our country have shortage of funds to give proper attention to sports. Because of this, something as basic as proper infrastructure takes a backseat. And with good reason. While our budding sporting talent needs proper attention and care, it does not precede other areas like sanitation, pollution control and natural calamities.

The Central Government tries to help out as much as it can especially by providing at the school level. According to the 8th All India School Survey, over 7,17,000 schools have usable playgrounds, which is around 55% of the total number of schools in India. According to the Sports Ministry, Rs 113,85,000 has been spent in the last 2 years on sports infrastructure and development but it should be noted that as many as 14 states received zero funding.

Sports as a profession also needs to be promoted, especially in rural areas. The last few years has seen a rise in participants at various levels but there still is a long way to go as most people don’t see a future in sports. The expenses and risk involved clearly outweigh the chances of success and the prize money. This is where the government needs to intervene.

The first step is to locate talent and for this, the sports authority has increased the budget allocation for national championships. As per the revised norms, the amount for holding national-level tournaments has been revised from Rs 2 lakhs for seniors, juniors and sub-juniors to Rs 5 lakhs for seniors, Rs 7 lakhs for juniors and Rs 10 lakhs for sub-juniors. There is also an additional Rs 25 lakhs available for hosting prestigious national tournaments. This way our chances of spotting talent at a young age increases exponentially which takes us to the next, most important step which is to nurture them into medal-winning prospects.

For this, one needs to convince the athletes and their families that choosing sports as a career option has scope in our country. Providing proper training along with the right diet and supplements is of primary importance, followed by proper accommodation and education in case for some reason they don’t make it in sports. This should be followed up with proper medical insurance and personal accident policy and prize money at every level, especially at the international stage. This will motivate those who show flashes of brilliance to train harder and climb higher in their pursuit for success. Improving travel conditions and accommodation during camps and tournaments will also go a long way.

Another key area of focus that the Sports Authority of India (SAI) recognizes and has been giving attention to is hiring the right  chief coaches and assistant coaches along with support personnel like doctors, physiotherapists, psychologists, masseurs, etc. Paying them good salaries also improves their quality and focus on the job.

Highest importance and prize money should be allocated for World Championships, Asian Championships and Commonwealth Championships. The award money should be categorised based on whether they are held, once in four years, once in two years or annually.

Another refreshing thing to be noted is that the award money for medalists of Paralympic Games (summer & winter), ParaAsian Games and Commonwealth Games (Para-Athletes) has been fixed at par with medalists of Olympic Games, Asian Games and Commonwealth Games. This is indeed commendable!

Apart from playing areas and training material, there are many other important things that are overlooked. For examples, neat and clean toilets, provision for drinking water, proper resting place, separate changing rooms for boys and girls, neat and clean lodging

facilities, adequately equipped with toilets including disabled friendly toilets, proper transportation facilities for players and officials from the place of stay to the venue of championship etc. are all of paramount importance as far as a sportsperson is concerned. But these are often overlooked in our country and they can adversely affect performances. Addressing this will fix a major flaw in our existing approach to professional sport in the country.

The Sports Authority of India is also promoting sports and locating talents by tying up with government and sports organisations at various levels: state governments, state sports councils and local civic bodies as well as school, colleges and universities. Along with their main centres, they are promoting several schemes from their regional centres such as Centre of Excellence Scheme, Special Area Games Scheme, Come And Play Scheme, National Sports Academy Scheme, National Sports Talent Contest Scheme and Army Boys Sports Companies Scheme.

SAI Hostels across India are going a long way in nurturing young talent. As of right now, SAI sports and extension centres for adolescents cover 26 different disciplines. There are also 15 Centres of Excellence (COE) imparting training to potential medallists, aged 12 to 25, in 18 disciplines. But apart from training in sports, qualified sports psychologists and counsellors are also of paramount importance. The increasing number of attempted suicides in the SAI hostels suggest that along with nurturing and physical training, the mental health of our young sportspersons should be given adequate attention as well.

We should also make sure there is no corruption or lapse in our approach. In our country, corruption is widespread and rampant and the sports arena is no different. While there should be a minimum allocation of funds to each federation and sports association, there should be a cap as well to ensure there is no wastage of money. Proper accountability should be maintained to ensure that the money pumped is actually spent towards the betterment of athletes. Another major need of the hour is that apart from building facilities and setting up infrastructure, we also have to ensure that proper care is taken of these sports facilities. Proper management and administration with periodic checks and servicing will ensure additional money is not wasted and the facilities do not fall into disrepair.

Furthermore, only sportspersons, coaches and support staff approved by the Sports Ministry and SAI should be part of the contingent for the events cleared at cost to the government. No additional sportspersons, coach and support staff should be included in such sports competitions even if it is at no additional cost to government.

Last but definitely not the least, another matter of grave importance than needs to be addressed is the several doping incidents that have been in the news of late. The National Anti-Doping Authority (NADA) which is responsible for promoting, coordinating, and monitoring the doping control programme in sports in the country has its task cut out.

NADA’s anti-doping rules are compliant with the Anti Doping Code of the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA). These rules dictate that various committees be set up which is why since 2009, we have the Anti Doping Disciplinary Panel, Anti Doping Appeal Panel and the therapeutic Use Exemption Committee.

The most pressing need is to increase the level of awareness regarding doping and illegal practices among active sportspersons and thus reduce the menace caused by doping. The level of awareness is quite high among national level players but there is a lot of confusion and lack of awareness among budding sportspersons especially in rural sectors. The use of electronic, print media and outdoor publicity all over India can go a long way in spreading awareness. The NADA has developed a Program for Education and Awareness on Anti-Doping in Sports (PEADS) to counter doping issues in our country. The plan is to provide information as well as hold camps and workshops to educate sportspersons and coaches and most importantly, to conduct Continuing Medical Education (CME) on prohibited substances/methods for medical doctors and supporting personnel.

Implementing all these regulations and checks will by no means guarantee medals at the next Olympics just like raw talent alone will not fetch you the prize at the international level. But by having these things in place, we as a sports-loving country are becoming systematic and organized and are increasing our chances exponentially. We still have a long way to go and for all you know Tokyo 2020 might not be anything to write home about either but if we are going to double our tally or even break into double figures for the first-time ever in any of the Olympics in the near future, all these changes would’ve gone a long way in preparing our athletes.

As they say, tiny drops of water make the mighty oceans!