Crumbs again for sports

THE hope that Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's epoch-making silver medal at the Athens Olympics would provide a new thrust in the Union Government's outlook towards sports, has been belied by the meagre hike provided in the Central budget for the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

THE hope that Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's epoch-making silver medal at the Athens Olympics would provide a new thrust in the Union Government's outlook towards sports, has been belied by the meagre hike provided in the Central budget for the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports. An increase of Rs. 39 crores over last year's allocation of Rs. 400 crores will actually amount to nothing at all since the figure includes Rs. 45.50 crores earmarked for the 2010 Commonwealth Games to be hosted by Delhi.

Out of the total of Rs. 439 crores, sports will only get a Plan allocation of Rs. 279.71 crores; Rs 118.84 crores will go for youth welfare programmes. Whether the interim funds for the 2010 Games would be utilised solely for the upgradation of training facilities or for any specific programme to prepare our sportspersons over the next five-year period is a moot point. The truth is no such programme has been drawn up bar the routine long-term development plans that the National federations keep updating from one Asian Games to the other.

"It all depends on us... perform and make the Government increase the budget," said the Sports Minister, Sunil Dutt, the other day. An Anju George will wonder what it takes to nudge the Government into providing better facilities even after winning the first-ever World championships medal by an Indian athlete in 2003. Her request to have a modern gymnasium at Bangalore, so readily agreed to by the previous Government — though nothing really moved even then — has remained on paper so far.

But then, Bangalore is not the only Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre that needs infrastructural additions and improvements. NIS, Patiala, is in dire need of a modern gymnasium if nothing else. Kolkata and Gandhinagar haven't had their astro-turfs replaced for more than 15 years; there is just one functional heated swimming pool in the entire country, at Talkatora in Delhi, if the majority of our swimmers want to train round the year unless we are talking of the pools in star hotels or private clubs.

Yet, not a single paisa has been allocated in the 2005-2006 budget towards `grants for creation of infrastructure' while Central assistance for the installation of synthetic surfaces has been discontinued! The `synthetic scheme' used to be a 50-50 venture with State Governments or institutions chipping in with their share to match the Central grant. Though funds had remained unutilised under this head in the past, in recent times there has been an encouraging response. If nothing else, these funds could have been kept under a separate head for the replacement of worn-out synthetic surfaces at existing SAI Centres and installation of additional surfaces in key States that are considered nurseries in a given sport, say Kerala in athletics or Punjab in hockey.

Appalled by the conditions at the residential quarters of the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi, shortly after he had taken over as the Sports Minister, Sunil Dutt had promised to provide a better deal to the sportspersons, especially top-class accommodation for those preparing for major international competitions. Though there is a plan to have a new 50-bed hostel at the Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in the capital, almost all centres could do with brand new residential quarters or with major renovation of existing hostels, not forgetting for a moment hygienic canteen facilities. The Sports Minister has his task cut out if he is to keep his promise without any specific allocation available in the budget in these areas.

The complete removal of grants to universities and colleges for sports promotion and the discontinuation of the rural schools playfields scheme should also evoke surprise and resentment. University sports standards have slumped beyond imagination in recent times while the need for developing playgrounds in schools, whether rural or urban, need not be overemphasised.

There is little point in saying that sports funding has to come primarily through corporate financing and sponsorship deals even as major infrastructural expenses should be the concern of Governmental agencies. Despite many schemes, memoranda of understanding and rhetoric about industry stepping in, Olympic sport is still largely dependent on the Government in a nation pre-occupied with its cricketing heroes.

Sunil Dutt never tires of stating that sports is a state subject, but that is no solution to anything in Indian sport. Dormitories will remain the hearth of the Olympians and prospective world champions, modern training facilities and scientific back-up will remain beyond the reach of the Anjus and Rathores of Indian sport, if additional funds cannot be made available in a hurry. And we will continue to grumble about that elusive Olympic gold.