Politics has always been an integral part of Indian sports; the power held by politicians in federations and sporting associations has more often than not yielded unwanted results.
The apathy of most lawmakers towards young athletes, the lack of funds, infrastructure and opportunities as also the internal conflicts between various factions within the same organization has hindered whatever progress Indian athletes have made in the world of sports. But, for a change, can sports play an important part in national politics?
Instances of abuse of power and corruption have been frequent and far too many in India’s sporting community. Perhaps the biggest among them came into forefront during the Commonwealth Games in 2010, which happened to be the first multi-sport extravaganza that India had hosted in 28 years.
Other instances of nepotism, especially during the selection of athletes for and while providing funds and equipment for training, can be found on the back pages of newspapers on every alternate day. Most sporting federations have failed to maintain transparency within its ranks, and elections to the all-powerful posts within the organization are an even murkier event. While all politicians and administrators run to take their share of glory when Indian athletes shine in international competitions abroad, very few take responsibility when the results are not to their liking.
For a large section of the Indian youth, sports have always been too adventurous a career option to pursue.
The lack of infrastructure, good competition and archaic training facilities has done little to change the popular narrative. While the funds allocated for sports in union budget has kept on increasing, the share of the money that is used to improve grass-roots training facilities is pretty less as compared to the money spent to achieve glory at international competitions.
The career of an athlete has always been a challenging one..
..filled with administrative obstacles at every step. The costs of training have increased manifold while the monetary reward from the governments, both state and central, for victory has more or less remained constant. The distress that these things create among athletes was brought to light last year when Asian Games bronze medalist Divya Kakran confronted Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal regarding the lack of support from the government when these athletes needed it the most.
While the performance of certain ministers of the current regime might have left many disheartened, but the same cannot be said about Sports and Youth Affairs Minister Col. Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
In 2018, Olympic silver-medalist Rathore became the first Olympian to complete a year at the helm of the Sports ministry. Throughout his tenure, he has made serious attempts to free Indian sports and its community from the clutches of politics and has even succeeded to a certain limit. What has been particularly impressive is his vision to make sports more attractive and appealing to the youth, not just by increasing the prize money but also by revitalizing national competitions by bringing it to the limelight again.
The government’s decision to launch the Khelo India games as a multi-disciplinary sporting event for school students has started to pay dividends. In its inaugural year in 2018, more than a 1000 talents were identified and provided the right facilities and coaches to train with.
Among them were Commonwealth Games Gold medalist Manu Bhaker and Youth Olympic Gold medalist Jeremy Lalrinnunga. The Khelo India games came back for its second chapter in January 2019, with more than 6000 athletes from across the country. The sports ministry also helped establish the first sports university, National Sports University in Imphal; with other campuses featuring in future plans as well. Sports Minister Rathore has also helped increase the monetary rewards for athletes performing well in international competitions. Various state governments like those in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi have taken the cue from the central government and increased their prize money as well.
Sports other than cricket often used to suffer from the lack of attention, both from the media and from the general public as well. However, India’s recent performances at international competitions have helped enhance public interest in sports to an all-time high.
2020 Tokyo Olympics is just a whisker away, and the public interest is supposed to improve to even greater heights. With most political parties shifting towards crowdsourcing their manifestos for the upcoming general elections, it can only be hoped that sports also finds a prominent mention in it.
2018 has been a year which has seen meteoric rise of India in international competitions across various sports. Not only have senior Indian athletes excelled at multi-nation tournaments like the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, but also the young guns have carried the nation forward to their best performance ever at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires.
However, if India has to build on a successful year to cement itself as a global powerhouse, then the journey has only just begun.
Throughout years, “politics” in sports has been immense; but now in 2019 sports has to find its place on the agenda of politicians.