Want To Make Sports Great In India? Get State Out Of Games & Stop Harassing Profit Making Bodies

by Ravi Kiran - Jan 2, 2017 12:33 PM +05:30 IST
Want To Make Sports Great In India? Get State Out Of Games & Stop Harassing Profit Making BodiesImage Credits-Reuters (TwitterPage)
Snapshot
  • BCCI is the most profitable sports body in India because it’s not run by the State. It paid Rs 2,140 crore in taxes last year which is Rs 500 crore more than the annual sports budget of India.

    And how did we reward it? By putting it on the dock for being successful.

As the Olympics year comes to an end, we see yet another controversy relating to sports and politics. Suresh Kalmadi, former Indian Olympics Association (IOA) chief and an accused in corruption related to 2010 Commonwealth games, and Ajay Chautala, an accused in Junior Basic Trained (JBT) teachers recruitment scam have been appointed as lifetime presidents of the IOA.

One side of the argument is that the IOA is an independent body and it has every right to appoint whoever they want. Also, if the govt intervenes or seem to intervene, the international body has every right to suspend the IOA like they did in 2014. The other side of the argument, though, is that, why should a person who siphoned off taxpayers’ money get to enjoy this honour? Both are valid arguments. So, where does the solution lie?

The answer to this problem involves simply giving true independence to sports federations i.e. financial independence. This can be easily achieved by scraping sports ministry and thereby sports budget so that the taxpayers need not worry about misuse of their contribution and the sports bodies can keep all the independence they want.

The immediate question which then arises is this: What happens to sports in India without the governmental assistance?

This question assumes two things: That sports in India currently are thriving and that the sports bodies which are neglected by the government are doing poorly. Actually, the opposite is true. Everyone knows that the most successful sports body in the country, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) doesn’t take a single penny from the government. In fact, the BCCI funds the government.

Last year, the state forcibly collected a total of Rs 2,140 crore in taxes from the BCCI (for the last 10 year period). To put things in perspective, the annual sports budget in India is around Rs 1,600 crores. This means the BCCI single-handedly financed sports in India for a whole year and even possibly helped plug Air India losses for a couple of quarters. Ironically, Ajay Maken, in a bid to get control over it, invited the BCCI in 2013 to apply for national federation status, a recognition that’s been traditionally bestowed on sports federations associated with Olympics. This privilege lets you get financial assistance from the sports ministry but wants you to be Right To Information (RTI) compliant. The BCCI unsurprisingly said, “no thanks” to this dubious offer.

It’s a blessing in disguise that cricket is not associated with Olympics. As a result, instead of depending on government’s largesse, the board could innovate and turn it into a hugely profitable organization/sport. The BCCI not only transformed cricket but by being an example in how to market sports in general, it helped other sports rediscover their glory. The IPL helped create an environment for similar leagues for other sports. The insipid national games are now being slowly replaced by exciting leagues like Pro Kabbadi, Indian Super League (ISL), etc. And how did we reward the BCCI? By making it stand in the court of law to explain its success. As if to say, you can’t possibly make a profit in this socialist country without being a criminal.

One can go on and on about the BCCI. Its success is so glaringly evident that one can’t possibly miss it unless one decides not to see. So, let us now turn our attention to a Olympic sport which has seen tremendous success in the recent years.

Today, India is a badminton nation. With PV Sindhu clinching silver medal at Rio, the popularity of the sport has peaked. But this is not a flash-in-the-pan moment. Indian Badminton had seen a success at the last two Olympics too. In 2008 in Beijing, Saina Nehwal made it to the quarters. In 2012 in London, she won the bronze. Now in Rio, Sindhu brought home the silver. Not just at the Olympics, but India has been doing consistently well on the World badminton tours. One can’t praise enough the great work done by Pullela Gopichand, but there is a story that many missed — that is, how the badminton association of India came out of the shadow of sports ministry politics and stood on its own.

Badminton Association of India (BAI) doesn’t need to follow the government guidelines because like the BCCI, we are financially self-sufficient and we can run the international calendar without taking a single rupee from the government in future.
VK Verma, BAI’s President in 2010.

The back story is that the then sports minister MS Gill tried to get control of various sports federations by taking on long serving officials of respective federations. So the ministry introduced a rule prescribing a limit to the number of years one can serve as president of a sports body. This rule invalidated the candidature of incumbent president Verma to contest elections that were due that year. The Sports ministry propped up former cricketer and then congress MP, Mohammad Azharuddin’s candidature. But BAI turned a deaf ear to the ministry, and re-elected Verma. However, the sports ministry’s reply to BAI’s threat of financial independence is a lesson for anyone who thinks sports should be run by the government

...even if BAI were to be become financially independent, it does not mean that it could treat government as an outsider as sports is a public good and sports development is a public service and therefore, no sports federation can claim that it can act as a private body without public accountability.
Joint Secretary (Sports) Injeti Srinivas stated in a letter to Verma.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is how you kill not just sports but just about anything. By making it a public good, and letting it open to bureaucratic and political meddling. Incidentally, it was MS Gill who asked Gopichand “Aap Kaun?” in full media glare when he and Saina went to meet the minister, after Saina had reached the quarters at the Beijing Olympics.

Now we have Prime Minister Narendra Modi setting up a task force with full of these no-skin-in-the-game babus and politicians to focus on next three Olympics. What could possibly go wrong?

To understand where we are going wrong, we have to go back to asking the question: why do we value sports so much? As one Thomas Bowden puts it, “The essential value of spectator sports lies in their capacity to illustrate, in a dramatic way, the process of human goal-achievement. They do this by making the process shorter, simpler, and more visually exciting than it is in daily life.”

It is vital human need. The need to experience success. When we see athletes showcase their mental and physical skills to a level of perfection against all the odds, it refuels us to fight our own life’s battles. By giving us heroes to admire, sports become an integral part of us and not just an isolated event. Such a thing if properly marketed should be demanding money not begging for assistance.

1984 Los Angeles Olympics stands testament to this fact. Marketed in such a way that private funding poured in and the organisers didn’t need to beg for government assistance. To date, the 1984 games remains the most profitable in the history of Olympics.

How did they do it? They invoked national spirit without necessarily invoking national spending. A year before the games, addressing the congress, the then US President, Reagan had said:

Next year’s games will show the world what Americans without government subsidy can accomplish.

They did show the world.

This piece was first published on Medium and has been republished here with permission.

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