Broadbasing sport in India is the key to its development. I personally feel money coming into sports other than cricket has started with the World Series Hockey League, which is good for hockey and the players. Money can elevate sports to the next level, but this money will come only when the sports federations in the country show some professionalism in managing their affairs.
The root cause of sports other than cricket not flourishing in India is lack of professional management. The sport federations are run by honorary members, who occupy the same positions for years. They are happy just being a part of the sport without actually doing anything.
An athlete has to contend with the Sports Authority of India (SAI), the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and the various national sports federations (NSFs). Decision making is a very slow process and there is too much overlap.
Current structures need to be simplified in order to reduce overlap, and enhance the impact of each rupee spent. Responsibilities need to be assigned. Federations need to be transparent. They also need to create revenue driven sports properties and popularize their sport.
There are good lessons to be learnt from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) on how to be a good professional sports body. Other sports federations can learn how BCCI marketed and promoted cricket, how it has created heroes and role models and how it developed the infrastructure for cricket in this country. Thanks to the BCCI, cricket has become a religion. The BCCI has been able to do this only because there are paid professionals who run it.
The other examples are those of the Prakash Padukone Badminton Academy in Bangalore and the Pulella Gopichand Badminton Academy in Hyderabad which are again run by professionals. For 17 years Prakash Padukone's academy has had only two sponsors: BPL and currently the Tata Group. If you have professionals running the sports body, brands will be willing to associate with the sport and stay with it for a longer time, as they see value for their money. Today, all the best badminton players in India come from these two academies. The Badminton federation has not done much for the sport.
Money is important. Only when there is money in sports will parents encourage their kids to take it up sports and become the next Dhanraj Pillai or Deepak Thakur in hockey, the next Saina Nehwal in badminton or the next Mary Kom in boxing. Most sports federations currently approach corporate houses asking for sponsorships and funds but do not want to say what they will do with the funds. This approach does not work with professionally run companies. They will not want to associate their brand with a sport if they are not going to get accountability. Federations must understand that they need to have a plan in place. There should be professional managers handling accounts, legal aspects, marketing etc.
I feel many of the honorary officials in sports federations who do not have a clue as to how to run the game should be removed. Of course there are exceptions, but in general, if we have paid professionals, they will be accountable. Once professionalism sets in, children can choose sports as a viable career option. As of today whatever successes have taken place in sports other than cricket, is despite the system and not due to it. Success is all because of the sheer talent and efforts of the individual athletes.
But things are changing. The proposed introduction of National Sports Development Bill by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports is one of the steps in this direction. The bill has drawn support from various quarters including eminent sportspersons and members of civil society. It is aimed at bringing about efficiency and transparency in the working of the National Sports Federation (NSF) and seeks to bring it under the purview of the Right to Information (RTI) Act.
The time has come for a change in the way sports and games are administered, and I believe this legislation is important for India to emerge stronger on the global sports map. The bill seeks to provide 25 per cent reservation for sportspersons in the NSFs, and also to fix the age and tenure of office bearers.
Apart from this there is a strong need to create infrastructure, develop athletes and treat them with dignity. There is a need to create revenue driven sports properties. There should be a proper plan in place with an ability to scale up leagues and garner more and more fan support and eyeballs. After all, sport in the best form of reality entertainment and it is unscripted as well.
We should aim at a few priority goals and do everything possible to achieve them. In the 2020 Olympics we should aim for at least 10 gold medals. By 2020 each of the top ten sports in the country should have a proper league system. A strong domestic league system is very necessary as it gives youngsters a chance to play top level games in the country and becomes a good feeder system for building a strong national team. Lastly, paid professionals in all Sports federations should be mandatory.
The author is CEO, Olympic Gold Quest, and a former India hockey captain (as told to Anusha Subramanian)