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  • Neeru Bhatia

Public Policy and Good Governance in Sport

In this article, Neeru Bhatia, Deputy Chief of Bureau and Sports Writer at The Week Magazine, provides us with a holistic perspective of the evolution of various sports policies in India and the need for an updated, relevant National Sports Code or a Code for good governance to meet our growing aspirations of achieving sporting excellence at national as well as international levels.

Neeru Bhatia was one of the participants of the inaugural High Performance Leadership Program launched by ELMS Sports Foundation. This article carries forward the learnings from one of the program sessions focused on “Good Governance and Public Policy in Sport”.

The National Sports Policy 1984; National Sports Policy 2001; The National Sports Development Code of India 2011; (Draft) National Code for Good Governance in Sports, 2017.

The evolution of the National Sports Policy and Code for good governance in India has been a 35-year long journey so far. A journey, based on sound, valid, time tested principles but one littered with numerous speed breakers, of fits and starts, obstructions, strong resistance, plagued by lack of political will and also a vast amount of systemic apathy.

In many top-performing sporting nations, the Sports Policy or good governance Code is a regular consultative process, time-bound. However, in India, the tussle between stakeholders has often been the biggest obstacle towards a smoothly evolving policy or code. Much like the sports culture in India- an awakening in public consciousness only once in four years that too to lament the lack of Olympic medals - the implementation of the Sports Policy has remained Ad Hoc rather than being the robust road map, towards achieving excellence in sports.

The first National Sports Policy came into being in 1984, notably, post the successful hosting of the 1982 Asian Games in New Delhi. Formulated to raise the standard of Sports in the country, The National Sports Policy, 1984 brought in by the government of the day had the provision of review every 5 years to "determine the further course of action, as may be necessary". However, for the next 17 years, the Policy was not updated. Finally, in 2001 having found that "the National Sports Policy, 1984 encompasses various facets in respect of encouraging sports in the country, the implementation of the same is not complete and leaves much to be desired", a new policy was formulated.

The 2001 NSP has two key objectives: "Broad-basing" of Sports and "Achieving Excellence in Sports at the National and International levels". While the two objectives remain crucial to India's aim of achieving sporting excellence at national as well as international levels, the changing expectations, awareness, and taste of success at the highest level does call for its review from time to time.

As far as "broad basing of sport" is concerned, till recently, it has remained a goal on paper. To achieve excellence in sports -to win medals at the highest level such as the Olympics, World Championships etc, one needs multiple performers in multiple sports. India has largely banked upon a handful of sports- shooting, hockey, badminton, archery, wrestling, and boxing to win Olympic medals. It is only post Rio Olympics 2016 to be specific, where India returned with just 2 medals, that the focus has actually shifted to encouraging more sports as a priority. The Sports Authority of India (SAI) and Union Ministry of Sports has added sports like cycling, judo, swimming, fencing, judo as well as Athletics to increase our medal prospects.

Broad basing within a sport or creating a bench strength or multiple potential medal winners in every category rather than banking upon one potential medal winner is still a cause for concern. For example, India is at present too heavily dependent on Bajrang Punia for a medal in the 74 kg weight category in wrestling, or athletics is depending only on javelin thrower Neeraj Chopra to give India its first individual Olympic medal. In stark contrast, there is the case of shooting wherein every event, say, 10m air rifle (women) you have 3-4 potential champions, competing not just with each other but with the world. It's a simple rule- the more people you have competing in the sport, the much higher the apex of the pyramid will be.

One must note "broadening the base" cannot be the sole responsibility of the government/SAI. On its part the government has launched major schemes like Khelo India and also included developmental athletes in its TOPS funding scheme, the NSFs too must fulfill their role and this is where things need to improve. On the one hand, while the NSFs seek to protect their autonomy and independence from the Government, they are also heavily dependent on government grants, schemes to find, nurture and develop talent as well as build their own robust competition structures. A few NSFs like the National Rifle Association of India, Cycling Federation of India, and Badminton Association of India are looking to broad base their sports with a domestic competition structure and talent finding mechanism put in place; a lot many NSFs are nowhere near doing so. Most do not have a Talent search department in place. For years and more, SAI with its widespread network of regional centers in different parts of the country have undertaken the task to identify potential talent.

As for the age-old debate of bringing Sports in the concurrent list, that remains an unfulfilled aim so far. Since sports continues to be a state subject; the sync between sports policies and sports activities undertaken by various states and the central government needs to get better. The stalemate over the adoption of the Draft National Code for Good Governance in Sport 2017 is a classic example. Drafted in view of "number of developments having taken place since 2011 Code came in place and numerous challenges related to ethics and good governance in sports administration having come up which need to be addressed". It looked at issues like transparency and financial integrity, strong Athlete representation to be part of NSF's governance structure. It also called for a professional management structure to run day to day affairs of the NSF’s.

Members of the drafting committee of the 2017 code consisted of India's lone individual Olympic gold medalist Abhinav Bindra, badminton legend Prakash Padukone and FIH president and former Hockey India president NK Batra; the IOA members and NSF officials refused to accept the draft resulting in Union Minister for Sports stepping in to quell the stalemate between officials of his ministry and NSFs, and announcing the setting up of a new committee to review the draft code of 2017.

The NSP 2001 calls for IOA and its NSFs to be results-driven and show "tangible progress" in the field of sport "keeping which in view, model bye-laws/organizational structures may be formulated for the NSFs, in consultation with them, and with due regard to the Olympic Charter, so as to make the functioning of the Federations/Association transparent, professional and accountable." It also reiterates the importance of holding national championships and for each NSF to draw a National Annual Calendar in advance as also its Long Term Development Programme.

NSP 2001 has stressed on scientific support to our athletes. While improvements in this aspect have been made over the years it is still intermittent. It is no secret that day to day, close scientific intervention for athletes, especially Elite athletes, is yet to be done on a regular basis. Elite athletes in India now have access to scientific interventions like nutrition, physio and trainer, injury management and rehabilitation etc. but it is largely missing at the developmental stage of athletes. This is a key area that the SAI is now looking at. The National Centre for Sport Science is now being set up at the Indira Gandhi Stadium Complex, New Delhi. Delhi. SAI centers are being developed on the hub and spoke model basis and will be linked to the hub at the IG Stadium.

The NSP 2001 speaks of coaching the coaches and upgrading the knowledge of technical officials on a regular basis. There has been for long, a severe paucity of qualified, up-to-date Indian coaches, resulting in entry-level and developmental athletes being deprived of correct coaching methods and inputs. Also, this has led to a growing dependency over the years on foreign coaches- resulting in a huge chunk of financial resources of the government going in paying for them. On its part SAI has taken an important step to make it mandatory for every NSF to include its coaching pathway in its ACTC submitted as part of the annual recognition. Each NSF now has to project a coach development pathway. most importantly in a much needed move, qualified Indian coaches will now be paid their dues- in June 2020 , SAI decided to raise the remuneration of qualified Indian coaches taken on board by NSFs.

The various other aspects of the NSP2001 such as integration of sports with education, infrastructure development, excellence in sports, resource mobilization via the contributory National Sports Development Fund and incentives for sportspersons still continue to be followed. As far as resource mobilization is concerned while the government takes care of most or major financial requirements regarding an athlete or team's training and exposure, coaches and support staff remuneration, NSFs which have developed their own means to generate revenue like domestic leagues, team sponsorships, and funding from international sports federations need to ensure most of these funds go back to the sport and the athlete. Reduced dependency on government /public funding is welcome even as a changed landscape means more scrutiny and transparency.

Thus, to create a vibrant and thriving sporting culture and to achieve sporting excellence, a dynamic sports code and policy duly followed by every stakeholder is also a must. A policy- not only on paper but one which is abided by in letter and spirit. A policy - which is regularly reviewed and upgraded and is a living, breathing document.

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