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2 years of Modi: No significant improvement in sports under NDA government

Bhargab Sarmah | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

"When we talk about the Olympics we do feel sad at the medal tally. But we need to create the right atmosphere to encourage athletes. It is essential to be positive about our athletes. Let us not worry about the results," Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said in his Mann Ki Baat address to the nation.

Modi, over the last few months, has cited the importance of sports in some of his addresses to the nation. Most importantly, the PM, on at least two separate occasions, has talked about the U17 FIFA World Cup to be held in India next year.

This comes as a major morale boost, not just for the organisers of the U17 World Cup, but for Indian football as a whole, that too at a time when domestic football in India is in a state of crisis.

However, despite Modi's verbal support, not much has changed for sports in India since the change in Central government in 2014. Here is a look at some of the major developments in the sports industry in India under the Narendra Modi administration:

Budgetary allocation

Budgetary allocations for sports from the Indian government have always been paltry over the last few years, taking into account India's size and sporting demographics. The total outlay never crossed the Rs. 1,000 crore mark prior to 2008-09.

In 2009-10, the government set aside more than Rs. 3,000 crore for sports, but a vast majority of it was spent in the organisation of the Commonwealth Games. Since then, the annual allocation has hovered near the Rs.1,000 crore figure.

Since forming the government, there has been improvement in the overall allocation, but only just. The current budget has seen a total allocation of Rs. 1,592 crore, up from the Rs. 1,541.13 crore set aside last year.

While the government has started the groundwork on a new Sports University in Manipur, the total spending on sports still remains hardly effective in improving the current state of affairs.

An underperforming Sports Minister

Sarbanada Sonowal took charge as the Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports following the NDA's victory in the 2014 General Election. Things, however, were far from smooth during his two-year tenure at the ministry.

During the last six months of his tenure, Sonowal, now the Chief Minister of Assam, was seen more often than not campaigning in his home state ahead of the Assembly polls.

Moreover, the Sports Ministry, at times, showed little understanding of competitive sports under Sonowal's governance. For instance, the ministry, earlier this year, tried to force ace shuttler Parupalli Kashyap into participating in the South Asian Games in Assam, at a time when he was returning from an injury and had just 12 weeks to qualify for the Olympics.

More recently, during the Sushil Kumar controversy, when the wrestling star called for a trial for selection to the Olympics, the Sports Ministry refused to step in and mediate.

PM Modi recently took to Twitter to laud Sonowal's performance. "There were polls; he was a CM candidate but Sarbananda Sonowal performed his duty as a sports minister. This is a big thing," he said. That, however, will do little to defend Sonowal from what has been an underwhelming two years in charge of the ministry.

Despite calls from various quarters for 2004 Olympic medal-winning shooter Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore to be handed the position, the Modi government has chosen Jitendra Singh as the successor to Sonowal.

It remains to be seen if Singh can improve on his predecessor's performance during his time in charge.

Red-tapism in TOP scheme

The Target Olympic Podium (TOP) scheme was launched by the government to provide financial support to Olympic hopefuls. The scheme, however, has been shrouded by red-tapism, with many athletes complaining about lack of support from the government in releasing the funds.

"I submitted my application and other documents to the ministry in August but they sat on the files. Only after media pressure, the files started moving. But the response lasted for a short time.

"I had to keep pursuing. It's not easy for an athlete to train, compete and then run to babus. Government finally sanctioned it on 15 October, but till now I haven't got a single penny," national shotput champion Inderjeet Singh was quoted as saying by New Indian Express on 30 October.

A number of athletes backed Singh, and claimed facing similar issues with the TOP scheme. When asked about the athletes' grievances, Sarbananda Sonowal had this to say to NDTV: "My Ministry is very clear about this. They have to communicate with us. Whatever their problem is, we are ready to support them fully so that they can give their best."

Still time for change

The government, last year, had constituted the All India Council for Sports (AICS) as an advisory body to the Sports Ministry. The V K Malhotra-headed body recommended an allocation of 'at least Rs. 12,500 crore' for the current financial year.

Malhotra himself argued that a country of 1.25 billion people required a per capita spending of Rs. 100 on sports, instead of the current rate of Rs.7-8. However, his recommendations failed to get the notice of the Sports Ministry, as a mere hike of Rs. 50.87 crore was seen in the budget earlier this year.

It remains to be seen whether AICS can play a more influential role in the Sports Ministry in the coming years, but its recommendations do need to be taken note of by the government.

In defence of the government, on the other hand, two years were hardly enough time to significantly improve the state of affairs of sports in the country. Although there hasn't been much to cheer for during this period, in terms of policy overhaul, there is still ample time for the Modi government to turn things around over the next three years.

First published: 26 May 2016, 9:10 IST
Bhargab Sarmah @BhargabSarmah

An avid fan of the beautiful game since his childhood, Bhargab has been writing about football in India for the last three years. He supports I-League club Shillong Lajong, as well as English giants Manchester United. Having recently graduated with a degree in commerce, he now writes about football and other sports at Catch.