At present 54 Indian athletes have qualified to compete at the London Olympics. Sports Minister Ajay Maken hopes that this time 80 to 90 athletes will eventually make it to the team. His government has set aside Rs 258 crore for training these athletes. In a tete-a-tete with BT's Anilesh S. Mahajan, he says that although corporate support is negligible, his government is making improvements in the system to increase companies' confidence in investing in Indian sports.
You have elaborate plans for London Olympics. Tell us how much support you are getting from the corporate sector…
Corporate support is almost negligible so far. All our elite, most of them, who are participating, are employed in the public sector undertakings. The elite athletes, who are national champions, get jobs in Railways, paramilitary forces, petrochemical companies. The corporate help is only largely from PSUs. But we have corporate helping coming in from Sahara Group, which is sponsoring our hockey team, also Mittal Champion Trust, which is helping in providing customised training to the athletes, who have been selected for the London Olympics.
What is the government doing?
We have set aside Rs 258.39 crore for preparation for these games. This does not include almost the same amount which we spent on training for Commonwealth and Asian Games, which showed good results as well. We started this Opex London in April last year, and we identified 732 core probables, who we gave training. So far we have conducted 131 foreign trips for exposures for these athletes. We have also deployed 21 foreign coaches and 68 support personnel. So far out of the allocated amount, till March we had spent Rs 124 crore and out of this foreign coaches and exposures cost us Rs 74.63 crore.
The idea is that our players should get best training in the world, from best coaches. Any foreign trip of any player from attending competition to qualify or to train is been borne by the government. So far 54 athletes have qualified for the Olympics; we expect this figure to go up to 80 to 90. In last Games, the contingent was of 54 athletes. At least in one aspect we will be surpassing Beijing Olympics record, though winning more medals is a priority and target. The contingent would be largest ever.
In your plan, how does corporate help fit in?
I have spoken to top captains of business houses. The biggest hurdle why they do not come up is that in our country sports is controlled and run by federations. The government only provides infrastructure; whatever help government gives is through these federations. The functioning of these federations has not been transparent. The ministry in the past tried to bring in Sports Bill. In this we want all these federations to come under RTI. And we want all these federations to have age and tenure norms, so that no vested interest is developed. We believe unless the corporates are not confident, unless transparency is achieved, unless they are convinced that the money they are giving to a particular sport is reaching athletes not the office bearers, they will not come in the manner we want them to.
Is there a politics of games…
Absolutely. The politics here does not mean political parties. The politics is like any other organisation, and it is there only because of vested interests of people who are sitting there for decades.
How are you breaking this shackle to give confidence to the corporate?
The new age Sports Bill is there. We are trying, and made a partial success, and came out with the statutory orders, which were notified recently. We have asked the federations coming for annual recognition that they have to comply with the age and tenure norms otherwise we will not recognize them.
The High Court of Delhi has upheld our decision. Any federation which goes in for elections, even Indian Olympic Association (IOA) which will go for elections in November, would have to follow these norms. Although I am not able to push through legislature on this yet via statutory note, we are trying to make it happen.
But the office bearers of several federations also sit in the Union Cabinet
It is not only Union Cabinet, it is all across. The opposition to the Bill did not came from Cabinet but from the chief ministers of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, and Himachal Pradesh. It is the menace which cuts across all party lines, by the people with vested interests. It is not only politicians, but also includes ones in bureaucracy. People who have hold over these federations do not want to leave that.
How do you see the working of Gold Quest and Mittal Champion Trust? does it help you in your plan opex London plan?
They are doing a fairly good job. I am personally in touch with them. What needs to be done, they train elitist of the elite athletes. Amongst the lakhs of budding athletes, thousands qualify for the national level and from them only scores compete at international event. They only target people who already reach a particular level; what we require is through these federations people these budding athletes should be targeted.
Olympic Gold Quest (OCQ) has recently gifted PT Usha's athletics school a gym; this might not cost much but the gesture is good. These trusts were earlier facing problems in getting donations from abroad, as they were not registered with the Home Ministry. I personally spoke to the minister to get it for them, and now they are getting donations from NRIs and others. But you will realize that these are not big enough.
Probably they are trying to bridge the gap for an athlete from reaching fourth-fifth spot to reach the podium
Yes, true. But when Krishna Poonia came to us saying that she wants to be trained in the US, we asked her federation to look for the best place for her training. Now, she is training in South Africa. The Indian athletes are training right now all across the globe. There are 22 probables, whom we have took out from these 54 qualified athletes, who are medal hopefuls.
None of the shooters are in the country; they are training with best of the mind trainers and coaches. Any amount of money which is required we are providing them. The government only gets flak. If you ask OGQ amount they would be spending, it would negligible.
They too are required. They can give personal touch to the athletes. What Manisha (Malhotra) (MCT) what Viren (Rasquinha) and Prakash (Padukone) (both with OGQ) do is that they give personal touch and attention to the players, and in reciprocation players get sense of security that they are helped by corporate entities. Their help is required and more such efforts should be made by other entities.
How much personally you get involved?
All the qualified athletes have my unlisted number and they are free to call me any time for any help or intervention required. For example, when Raninder Singh of NRAI (National Rifle Association of India) came to me, they were facing problems in imports of the ammunitions and other equipment. They tried through SAI (Sports Authority of India) to get the ammunition. I had to intervene, though it is unfortunate. But we not only gave them the money, but also got the policy changed. Earlier SAI had to do all purchasing and give the equipment to the federations and players. But now all these equipment can be bought by these federations; they have to complete their formalities. Let them make estimates, and they will get 75 per cent of the money in advance. So there should not be any delay.
Tomorrow if something goes wrong here, people will point fingers, but if I do not do it they will not get the equipment in time. Because of red-tapism the delay was happening. I have also linked the nutrition allowance with inflation. They should not run from pillar to post for the same.
Have you personally talked to corporate honchos to convince them to invest here?
I have spoken to them… but the response is dull. I have written to CII, FICCI, Ministry of Corporate Affairs and Petroleum Ministry, ever since I have joined the ministry… Corporates should come as a part of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and should help budding athletes as well. Rather than owning elite athletes and trying to get mileage out of their success, they should come up and adopt games along with federations. It has to be combination of both. Government's role should be of facilitator. I have written to the industry bodies inviting them to adopt SAI centers. We offered that we will name the centre after their brand. We have 92 centres. Due to the standard procedures and red-tapism, standards of our centers are not up to the mark. There is no response till now. There are no success stories.
India lacks injury management, and there is also problem in the training of coaches? How are you trying to address them?
We lack scientific support. This government has to do; it would be difficult for corporates to do it. We have decided to set up National Institute of Sport Sciences, which will take care of 360 degree needs of the sports person, right from his diet to injury management. We have already signed MoU with Beijing Institute of Sports Sciences and INDER of Cuba. This would be set up at two lakh sq feet area in Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. It has been indicated to us by Planning Commission that they are setting aside Rs 400 crore to Rs 500 crore for the same. It will be autonomous body like AIIMS. Moreover, at NIS Patiala, we are hiving out Coaches Training Institute - an autonomous body which would work like a central university. It would be headed by a director, who would draw salary of VC (vice chancellor) of a central university, and the trainers of professors. We are keeping provisions for getting people from abroad, who have made mark for themselves to help us setting up this institute and make it a success. As per the plan, both of these institutes should come up in this calendar year itself.