A silent worker

Jiji Thomson… a tough task in hand.-RAJEEV BHATT

Jiji Thomson, Director General, SAI, talks to S. R. Suryanarayan about his journey so far and his vision for Indian sports.

As a young IAS officer, it was a big challenge for Jiji Thomson when he was given the responsibility of conducting the National Games in Kerala in 1987. With venues spread across the State, he had to ensure coordination and also perfect execution. There began his passion for sports and fortunately for Thomson he began to get more opportunities to be in the midst of sportspersons and sports administrators.

Thomson was actively involved with the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and now as the Director General of the Sports Authority of India, he is one of the most important sports administrators in the country. He talks to Sportstar about his long association with sports.

Question: What according to you is the ideal role of SAI in the development of sports?

Answer: The Sports Authority of India (SAI) plays a very important role in the development of sports in our country. In fact, SAI is the only Government agency that looks after the development of all Olympic Sports. SAI’s mandate is to achieve excellence in sports. To achieve that we need to broadbase sports in the country; identify talents; nurture them; provide equipment and infrastructure; give them foreign exposure and take them to the podium. Here, one must remember that sports are in the ‘State List’ and it is the primary responsibility of the State to take action for broadbasing sports. However, by implementing various schemes of the Ministry of Sports & Youth Affairs, SAI is also doing its bit in broadbasing sports, scouting talents and nurturing them. Ideally, SAI should concentrate on giving coaching to elite sportspersons and ensuring podium finishes.

Did you tour the country to assess the working and upkeep of various SAI centres?

Yes. The first thing I did over the last three months was to visit Regional Centres, Sports Training Centres (STCs) and Special Area Games (SAG) Centres. This has given me first-hand information on the infrastructure that is available and I must confess that it is not up to the mark. In some places we have coaches, but no trainees. In some others, it is the other way round. There are also centres where we have coaches and trainees but no infrastructure. The fact is we have set up around 55 STCs across the length and breadth of the country, without assessing the need for such facilities. The aim should have been better training centres than more training centres. The clamour for more training centres needs to be resisted. It is quite fashionable to ask for more synthetic turfs. Unfortunately, no cost benefit analysis is made. It is all done in an arbitrary manner. My aim will be to improve the existing facilities.

ASPIRING BOXERS TRAIN at the Giri Centre for Sports Activities run by the Sports Authority of India in Hisar, Haryana.-V.V. KRISHNAN

SAI coaches have always been held in high regards. But is everything happy on this front? Tamil Nadu has shown all of them the door…

Today, SAI has over 1200 coaches. We have now taken steps to recruit another 200. But, for a country of one billion plus what can 1400 coaches do? There is a severe dearth of qualified coaches in the country. The Government is aware of this and that is why it has decided to set up an Institute for Sports Coaching. The project report for this is under preparation, and hopefully, by the end of September, we should have a plan in place. As for Tamil Nadu, some of our coaches, who were deputed to the State Government, were surrendered all of a sudden. I am not aware of the real reasons that prompted this step but definitely there seems to be some sort of misunderstanding. I am enquiring and hopefully, we should be able to sort this out.

What are the other areas SAI should concentrate on?

I have already talked about improving the existing infrastructure in the country. This has to be done on a war footing. SAI has taken steps to enter into the first PPP model in sports in the country. It is entering into a MoU with M/s JSW Sports Ltd for renovating sports infrastructure at the STC in Hisar. Jitendra Singh, the Minister of State for Youth Affairs & Sports, has taken the initiative to get corporate houses and Public Sector undertakings to adopt important SAI Centres in the country. This will ensure the upkeep of the infrastructure and their modernisation when required.

Anything else you would wish to add…

Other thoughts I have include 1. Concentrating more on ‘Special Area Games’. SAG has to be the centre for exclusive development of a sport prevalent in a particular area. We need to go deeper into the tribal areas in the country to locate talents and nurture them. 2. Developing a coaching framework for each discipline. In effect, a coaching framework for each discipline — whether it is an Olympic sport or a Paralympic Sport. 3. Commercialisation of all stadia. Government has invested Rs. 2300 crore for the five stadia owned by SAI, but we have not made any revenue out of it. Maintenance of these stadia is eating into our precious resources and, therefore, we need to come out with a model which can generate income from these places. 4. A Long Term Development Plan (LTDP) for sports in the country. This is an area where National Sports Federations are found wanting. We need to come out soon with a ‘Mission for 2030’. 5. A robust system for appraising the performance of our athletes and coaches. It is a pity that it doesn’t exist today. This year we disbursed Rs. 160 crore to various Sports Federations for hiring foreign coaches, buying equipment and for foreign exposure trips of athletes. Shouldn’t we know how this money has been used and the benefits gained?

Can SAI become a ground for emerging sportspersons in terms of jobs and social security?

SAI cannot offer jobs to emerging sportspersons. This is where the corporate sector can play a major role. Today, we are promoting Army Boys Sports Companies (ABSCs) where all the cadets are assured of a job in the Army. The Sports Minister is very keen that this scheme be followed by Navy, Air Force and Para-Military Forces. Today, we have 15 ABSCs and they are doing reasonably well. By providing them more modern equipment and specialised coaches we can really make a great impact. The boys are also keen to join the school as they are assured of a job. If the big corporate houses in the country can also come forward and adopt one or two sports disciplines each and assure the medal winners a job in their company what a change this could make!

Your passion for sports was seen when you took over the reins during the National Games in Kerala and later held a key role during the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. Now you head the Sports Authority of India...

I am an avid sports lover. It is my fortune that I was asked to organise the National Games in Kerala in 1987. That was a huge challenge. We hardly had any sports infrastructure in Kerala but in a record time, we could not only complete the basic infrastructure, but also hold the National Games on time and with success. I remember handing over the entire records of the National Games to the then Prime Minster, late Rajiv Gandhi at the concluding ceremony. We made a handsome profit of Rs. 55 lakh, got the accounts audited and published it in the newspapers before I left for Palakkad, for the next posting as District Collector. This experience gave me lot of courage. As Palakkad Collector we organised the Santosh Trophy, the B.C. Roy football tournament, Satellite tennis tournament, Ranji Trophy, etc. All this experience came in handy when I was parachuted to the Organising Committee of CWG-2010. I was one of the three-member fire-fighting team sent by the PMO. Despite charges of corruption and inept handling, Delhi hosted one of the best Commonwealth Games.

What has been the experience overall?

As Shakespeare said, “Men’s evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water”. None of us who worked day and night for the success of the Commonwealth Games could get what we deserved. I was disappointed not for myself but for those young boys and girls, who tirelessly worked with me to make a dream come true. They never got what they deserved. My 33 years of experience have taught me this — never look for any kind of recognition in public service. Do whatever you feel is right; be honest; be impartial and be ruthless in execution. In my career so far, I have come across two sets of people — one who take credit for everything and the other who do their work. The first one is in majority and the second in hopeless minority. I am in that minority and will continue to be so.