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The Indian sports ministry: Headwinds that await Mansukh Mandaviya

From ensuring a smooth Paris 2024 campaign to solving sports federation matters, the new minister has plenty on this plate.

The Indian sports ministry: Headwinds that await Mansukh Mandaviya

Mansukh Mandaviya has been elected to the Lok Sabha from the Porbandar constituency. (Photo credit: Shiv Aroor/X)


Sudipta Biswas

Updated: 11 Jun 2024 10:25 AM GMT

The appointment of Mansukh Mandaviya as India's new minister of Youth Affairs and Sports brought the rather eventful reign of Anurag Thakur a close.

Thakur, who served as the sports minister in the second term of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), did not find a place in Modi's cabinet despite retaining the Hamirpur seat in Himachal Pradesh in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections.

Mandaviya, meanwhile, is an MP from Porbandarh, holds a Ph.D in political science and has been regular in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet since 2014.

With a wide range of issues that need attention, the new sports minister has his task cut out.

The Olympics bid

While the focus remains on India's preparations for the Paris Olympics where the country strives to better the high of Tokyo 2020, PM Modi's willingness to bid for the 2036 Olympics with Ahmedabad as the host city is expected to gather much-needed steam, given that the sports minister Mandaviya is himself from Gujarat.

In October last year, PM Modi announced India's intend to bid before an audience of international dignitaries at the 141st session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Mumbai. The objective of the move is for the country to become one of the top-ten sporting nations by 2036.

For Mandaviya, speeding up the bidding process will be the top priority, along with ensuring a smooth campaign for Indian athletes in the 2024 Paris Olympics.

At the outset, the mere feasibility of the bid itself needs attention in keeping to the infrastructural challenges that are inherent to sports in India.

While the process is expected to gain requisite momentum under the tutelage of Mandaviya, one of the key challenges for the 52-year-old MP will be to ensure the cost-effectiveness of hosting the Olympics.

The cost of hosting the Tokyo Olympics was roughly $13 billion and nearly pushed the host city to the edge of economic turmoil last time around. Greece suffered a similar fate after hosting the 2004 Athens Olympics.

The Rio Olympics in 2016 forced Brazil to incur a huge loss and paralysed the country's economy.

India, meanwhile, has had some sort of experience in this regard, hosting the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Those Games incidentally were mired in controversies that ranged from several corruption allegations to mishaps in the form of a bridge collapse.

While these factors will weigh heavily on Mandaviya's mind, the problems don't end there.

Future of 'sports capital of India'

Under the regime of the new sports minister, changes will be expected on several other fronts as well.

One of the most interesting aspects of the new government would be its handling of Odisha's existing sports ecosystem. With the BJP toppling Navin Patnaik's BJD to stake a claim in the state assembly, it has to be seen how the sports ministry and the state government incorporate to carry on the legacy of the erstwhile government.

In his 24-year regime as the Chief Minister of Odisha, Patnaik laid out a robust ecosystem for sports in the state. The coastal state has become the nerve centre of Indian hockey, with Odisha sponsoring the national teams, developing stadiums and hosting marquee events.

Similarly, under Patnaik, sports like swimming, shooting, gymnastics and athletics also got a massive boost, with corporate houses opening up facilities and athletes from other states changing loyalty to Odisha, helping the state to earn the moniker 'sports capital of India'.

It has to be seen whether the same culture gets continuity under the new leadership or the BJP government introduced a change to the sports policy. This is going to be one of the trickiest challenges for Mandaviya.

Cleansing National Sports Federations

One of the reasons that perhaps went against Thakur was his mishandling of the year-long wrestlers' protest against former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who was accused of sexual violence.

Such was the effect of the protest that the BJP had to drop Brij Bhushan from its candidate list in Uttar Pradesh.

Even though the WFI regained its international recognition, Mandaviya has to work to rid the federation of controversy and ensure its seamless functioning. The Indian wrestlers undoubtedly deserve a compatible atmosphere.

Similarly, in hockey, after the fall of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government in Odisha, things will not be easy for the Hockey India president Dilip Tirkey, who enjoyed the patronage of Naveen Patnaik all through.

Tirkey is a BJD loyalist and even contested the Lok Sabha election under the BJD ticket from Sundargarh but suffered defeat at the hands of BJP's Jual Oram.

It now remains to be seen how the federation will function in the coming days.

Another challenge for Mandaviya, which Thakur failed to resolve, will be the tackling of factionalism at the Indian Olympic Association (IOA), which has been in turmoil in the Olympic year.

At the moment, IOA president PT Usha is at loggerheads with most of the Executive Committee (EC) members who revolted against her suo-motu decision to appoint a Chief Executive Officer.

Before Paris 2024, ending this tussle in the corridors of IOA will be one of the priorities for Mandaviya.

These issues aside, matters of several national sports federations that have been under the scanner for administrative lapses - the latest being the Equestrian Federation of India - will sit at the top of the minister's to-do list.

Clearly, the new Indian sports minister has his work cut out and only time will tell if Mansukh Mandaviya will be able to bring any positive change to the country's beleaguered sports ecosystem.

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