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Why pumping money into Sports Budget is a double-edged sword

In the biggest sports budget ever, the budget for Khelo India jumped from Rs 657.71 crore last year to 974 crores this year. The increase is welcome but the consequences are unknown.

Khelo India sports budget reuters
Can Khelo India wisely use their funds to turn India into a giant playground? (Source: Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Manisha Malhotra

Updated: 8 Feb 2022 9:02 AM GMT

It's that time of the year again when the government decides how much money to annually slash, dish for the entire financial year ahead. In bated waiting for it, the recently concluded Union Sports budget for 2022 has seen a 48% increase in the money allocation for Khelo India - the flagship scheme of the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports (MYAS), fetching quite a few mixed reactions. While as a sports administrator, more money into the sport is always welcome and can never be complained about - but it is something of a double-edged sword, in reality.

With the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games on the radar in 2022, the entire Sports budget saw a sizeable hike of Rs. 305.58 crores. The previous budget for the Olympic year was allocated for Rs. 2596.14 (later revised to 2757.02 crores) and currently, with two big events lined up, the budget has been boosted to a whopping 3062.60 crores to aid the athletes.

While all that is well and good, the Sports budget's focus has once again been kept on Khelo India with money being pumped into the MYAS endeavour in heaps. However, what needs to be understood is that Khelo India is still in its fledgling stages and facing several challenges. Moreover, the effectiveness of the present model is yet under study and the actual impact of the scheme is still unclear.

The budget for Khelo India jumped from Rs 657.71 crore last year to 974 crores this year and the reasons for this increase are welcome but they are definitely unknown. In theory, Khelo India is a necessity and efforts to make it more robust by ensuring the availability of large funds is the correct step - but without it knowing how to really walk yet, the money pumping is a little ambiguous, at this point.

The challenges in the Khelo India ecosystem

Khelo India Youth Games (Source: PTI)

In its present avatar, the aim of the Khelo India scheme is to promote sports across the country. The scheme is not meant for elite sport but as a vehicle to spread the benefits of sport across all strata of society. While I would not delve into the fine print of the scheme I would like to highlight the major challenges within the ecosystem.

On repeated occasions, the MYAS has conceded on several forums that all expertise within sports is contained in the National Sports Federation's (NSF) - so why is Khelo India being run without the coordination of the NSF? There are several overlaps but yet the NSF's have no direct say in the Khelo India functioning still.

In all its truth, the overall monitoring mechanisms within this system is still not efficient and while there are efforts on trying to micromanage various verticals, it is nowhere near where it needs to be.

The 'other' side of rewarding

Khelo India School Games

Another big issue with Khelo India is the large bouquet of rewards on offer for very young children. In turn, we are forcing kids to specialize in a specific sport from a very early age. It has been proven worldwide that an early specialization of sport leads to a higher probability of injury, various issues revolving around psychological stress and a significant number of people giving up the sport at a much earlier age - which doesn't really go on to help the entire spirit of what sport really stands for.

My biggest grouse is in the system of stipends. While I do believe athletes in the country should get some monetary benefits, giving stipends by no means creates athletes and can't be a prerequisite for participation in the sport. Over and above stipend-giving can never be a sustainable model for growth and in ways, pollutes the intentions behind pursuing sport to a certain extent.

What Khelo India really needs to do is to use its big purse of money to create systems or vehicles where athletes can participate in sports and that will eventually have a much bigger impact which will be year on year rather than infrequently. This way, the Khelo India scheme can actually become constructive in contributing to the larger picture of the Indian sporting ecosystem - in a more regularized fashion.

Just occasional fun and games?

One of the biggest things India lacks and I am not saying this from an elite level perspective is competitions - we have no club leagues or tournaments, we have few tournaments which are for amateur athletes to just have fun and participate, and this is something which Khelo India should enhance.

Having a gala event once or twice a year hardly has any impact on the daily benefit of the sport. There needs to be much more impetus on having competitions across various ages which are done just for the joy of competition and no other motive.

Every competition does not need to have bigger motives other than just enjoying the competition - a concept that does not really gel well in the Indian context yet but definitely needs more bolstering to provoke the change of mindsets.

Hockey match during a Khelo India Youth Games (Source: Khelo India)

As a country, India has one of the largest youth populations and there is no doubt that there needs to be something in place to galvanize the youth and to give them an avenue to reap the benefits of sport.

That is exactly what Khelo India should be - something that allows our youth to play and make India into a giant playground. What we need to understand while we discuss the economics of a budget is also to realise the potential sport can play in actually developing a nation. Almost like a process of symbiosis, a country's economic power and its sporting power turn on the same wheels and are ideally, directly proportional.

If Khelo India manages to achieve this transformation, function in a more systemized manner, encourage competition, hone talent - it is only then that we would be able to really feel the true power of sport and the difference it can make to society and pedal it towards a stronger tomorrow.

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