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'India taking giant strides in the sports infra realm'

08:54 PM Sep 24, 2021 | Deepak Sood

At the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, India was represented by its largest-ever contingent of 127 athletes who returned home with a record medal haul of seven medals, including a Gold.

In the Olympics' track and field competition, Neeraj Chopra's Gold in Javelin throw was the first for India. Additionally, a Bronze in Badminton, Boxing and Men's Hockey, Silver in Weightlifting and Wrestling, another Bronze in Wrestling became the country's best-ever performance in the Olympic Games. These, alongside the achievements of past Olympians, have been based on our athletes' sheer grit and determination, supported by the convergence of infrastructure, government support, and coaching excellence over decades.

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Commendably, during this Olympics, all the athletes strived for excellence, setting India's trajectory in sports because of their excellent training and mentoring before the mega sporting event.

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The government has formed a 'Mission Olympic Cell' tasked with improving high-performance coaching and athlete training. Simultaneously, federations and private (not-for-profit) companies focused on the elite medal prospects. India focused on getting its sportspersons the best training from across the world.

Consequently, weightlifter, Mirabai Chanu was trained in the US, Wrestler Bajrang Punia prepared in Russia, and Neeraj Chopra had the opportunity to train and compete in France, Sweden and Finland before the Tokyo Olympics.

In India, sports is growing exponentially and is considered as 'the next big opportunity.' The Tokyo Olympics proved that India was serious about investing in its athletes and infrastructure. The ground was prepared in 2018 when the Sports Ministry earmarked Rs 100 crores to fund the athletes for the preparation of the Tokyo Olympics. Subsequently, the 2020-21 Annual Budget allocated Rs 2826.92 crore for sports. The government's flagship programme 'Khelo India' received a substantial allocation of Rs 890.42 crores.

In the last few years, the government has proposed several projects in sports infrastructure. They include synthetic athletic track, synthetic hockey field, FIFA standard turf football ground, swimming pool, construction of stadium complex at district headquarters, sports academies, and training centres.

Another programme, launched in 2014, Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) provides financial assistance to potential Olympic medal winners. This funding scheme considers the performance of Indian athletes in the past three years. They are provided with personal coaches and other staff fees, cost of travel during competitions, purchase of equipment, etc. This strategy has reaped the harvest, with India securing 48th place in the overall medals tally at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Sports Authority of India (SAI) is implementing schemes like the National Sports Development Fund that helps sportspersons train under coaches of international repute with technical, scientific and psychological support to promote a sports culture across various levels. It also offers technical, scientific and psychological support exposure to international competitions. Additionally, the Fund provides financial assistance for the development of infrastructure and other activities to promote sports.

Several states have introduced initiatives to improve sports infrastructure at the grassroots level, provide financial aid to aspiring elite athletes and monetary rewards and government jobs to high achievers. Haryana and Manipur are considered to have strong sporting cultures and have produced many prominent sports personalities.

Continuing with the policy of sports promotion, Odisha became the first state in the country to sponsor a sports team by signing a Rs 150 crore deal with Hockey India. Recently, the Odisha government approved the State Sports Infrastructure Development Project worth Rs 693.35 crores, under which 89 multi-purpose indoor stadiums will be built in the coming months.

The private investments through corporate have provided a further fillip to sports in India. Before the 2016 Olympics, Indian Olympic Association (IOA) received donations from corporates, which later transformed into investment in training or wider sponsorships.

To better its performance in sports, India would have to adopt a few best practices from other countries, especially regarding investments in the players' health and training.

The country can consider adopting the 'Health Stadia Concept' from Europe, which uses sports stadia as the place where people can visit to have a positive, healthy experience playing or watching sport.

As various sports come into the mainstream, sporting events, much like the success in cricket and football, would provide an opportunity to project a positive image of the country. This, however, would be dependent on the availability of robust sports facilities and an ecosystem to facilitate players' training. Besides, investment in sports, amateur or professional, is an essential element of a holistic educational experience.

India, with its potential to invest more and put a new model of sports governance in action, further needs to intensify its efforts to take Indian Sports to newer heights.

(Deepak Sood is Secretary General - ASSOCHAM (The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India)

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