PtG Article 10.08.2007

New policy aims to set up India as a world leader in sport

Athletes from India rarely win medals in international competitions but that may soon change. India’s Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has just published a draft for a new national sports policy on its website inviting everybody to contribute their views on a policy that aims to make India one of the world’s leading sporting nations within the next decade.

Much remains to be done for India to become a big sporting nation. The policy document (available to download here) points out that access to sport and physical education opportunities still remains highly inadequate especially in rural areas and poor urban areas. As a consequence, the levels of participation in sport and physical education at home, school, college, the community level and in the workplace is ”abysmally low.”

Less than seven per cent of the population under 35 have access to organised sports and games - perhaps not surprisingly considering that the sports budget is currently only 0.073 per cent of the total Indian Union budget.

The policy document therefore sets up the ambitious goal of providing universal access to sports and physical education for all classes of citizen, in all segments of society and across all age groups. It also suggests building more sports facilities and fostering a sports club culture in India.

The aim is not only to win more medals for India. The policy paper points out that India’s advantage in the world economy is that its population is young compared to that of the West and China, and therefore it is important to develop young people through sport and other means to secure future economic growth.

Olympic Association believes new policy spells disaster

Despite a number of suggestions for creating a system that supports and nurtures athletes with international talents, the sports policy document has not been given a warm welcome by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA).

According to Indian media, the president of the IOA, Suresh Kalmadi, is unhappy that the sports ministry has proposed a policy without first consulting him and other stakeholders in sport. But the biggest problem for the IOA is that the Sports Ministry suggests establishing a Sports Regulatory Authority to mediate between national sports federations and resolve complaints about issues such as

  • Inefficient or inappropriate deployment of funds
  • Mistakes in management
  • Non-accountability for results
  • Prejudice in selection procedures for national teams
  • Undemocratic or unethical electoral practices in sports bodies

According to Indian newspaper, The Hindu, Kalmadi has sent a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urging him to intervene and take this suggestion out of the national policy because the IOA and the national sports federations see it as an attempt to dilute their autonomy.

”It could lead to an ugly situation wherein the International Olympic Committee would suspend India. This in turn would deprive India’s participation in all sporting events under the auspices of the IOC; Olympic Council of Asia and Commonwealth Games Federation. In effect, this would lead to non-participation by India in the 2008 Beijing Olympics,” Kalmadi writes in the letter.

Concerns about the importance of mega-events

The Indian Olympic Association is also unhappy that the policy paper suggests a measured approach to hosting mega events in India to ensure long-term benefits for the population.

”On the eve of the Commonwealth Games 2010, a national policy statement questioning the rationale of holding mega-sporting events would send the wrong signal internationally and adversely affect the prospect of conducting the Commonwealth Games successfully,” Kalmadi complains to the Prime Minister.

The Indian Sports Ministry has invited IOA to a meeting later this month to discuss the new sports policy.