Olympic Task Force report: No game changer, but can be a springboard to bring change to Indian sport

It is a labour of love, a document that can be used as a springboard to usher in change in the fabric of Indian sport.

The Olympic Task Force report, some sections of which are trickling into public domain almost coyly, has the potential to stir the hornet’s nest in sports administration, but does not come across as a game changer to inspire the pursuit of excellence in more young Indians. Even a cursory reading of the Olympic Task Force report reveals that it has little new to offer. In fact, in the executive summary, it admits that in as many words: "There is little in the report that has not been said in the past." However, it is a rare document, resulting from hundreds of hours of hard work and sincerity and can be a superb starting point.

The suggestion to set up a National Sports Regulatory Board (NSRB) to regulate all stakeholders is a wonderful idea as is the recommendation that a stipend of Rs 6 lakh per year for each elite athlete till 2020 Games, even if most of the elite athletes are employed and perhaps even compete professionally.

There are some no-brainers, too: Pick priority sports; find elite potential athletes, get world class coaches and a grading system for coaches; scale up training centres, encourage more academies for individual sports, implement the National Sports Code and pass the Sports Bill, promote revenue generating methods for professional leagues and make athletes, sports bodies and sports infrastructure accountable. All these were in the NITI Aayog’s Olympic Action Plan last year.

File image of the Indian contingent at the Rio Olympics 2016. Reuters

File image of the Indian contingent at the Rio Olympics 2016. Reuters

The desire to improve the use of schools as the primary source of talent and the establishment of sports schools in 650 districts may actually nurture grassroots talent in the long run. The idea of increased physical literacy training in schools — five hours a week — can also spark greater interest in sport at that age.

Yet, the Task Force believes India has an immense talent base but legacies rooted in byzantine sporting system and the absence of a sporting culture have meant that India has so far been unable to fine success in Olympic sport commensurate to its huge potential and size. It draws attention to many gaps in the sports administration and seeks a ruthless overhaul to get transformational results.

It says the two medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics demonstrated that while individual brilliance and perseverance of our athletes may deliver occasional face-saving results for the nation and provide the illusion of positive change, transformational change can only come from a drastic and systemic overhaul of sport’s administration in the country.

The use of a familiar slogan — “Minimum Government and Maximum Governance” — appears to be aimed to please the powers-that-be and is a sign of bureaucracy’s involvement in the preparation of the document. It may well be similar, if not the same, bureaucracy that will drive the Empowered Steering Committee to begin with.

There is more than a subtle hint that the future of Indian elite athlete may well lie in high performing academies, irrespective of who runs them. The suggestion that incentives must be given to high performing academies by proving holistic support to enhance their capacity building is an indication of the way forward.

Will new nomenclature usher in change?

The Task Force suggests the formation of an Empowered Steering Committee to oversee the preparations of the 2020 Olympic Games and envisages the formation of a Section 25 company to take over the Olympic preparations after that. The committee will be responsible for the preparation for the 2020 Games and the new legal entity would take over later.

This would be a pubic admission that Sports Authority of India’s Mission Olympic Cell and TOP Scheme were failures because of poor staffing and implementation. Could reputed global experts/consultants not be appointed under the present setup to oversee preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and beyond and advise on various components of the training? The Task Force has said that developing a national sports culture through deep, systemic changes is eventually linked to Olympic greatness, it is a different endeavour in the short run to achieve excellence by winning at least 20 medals at the 2028 Olympic Games. “India must focus on both objectives,” the report says.

Now, wasn’t this exactly the task of the Sports Authority of India? After all it was established by the Government in 1984 under the Societies Registration Act, 1860, with the twin objective of broad-basing of sports and to achieve excellence at the national and international level. It came to be inundated with more work and fell short of achieving the two key objectives it was tasked to. Perhaps that is why the Task Force has suggested redefining the Sports Authority of India’s role.

For all that, in the Olympic Action Plan released in September 2016, NITI Aayog targetted 50 Olympic medals in 2024. The Olympic Task Force, in contrast, mentions a more modest 20 medals as its target in 2028. It will be imperative for the government to consider both reports and come up with a viable goal for each of the coming three Olympic Games. For the sake of Indian sport — now being overwhelmed by various international leagues which have produced more couch potatoes than ever and have the potential to be the new East India Company by draining precious financial resources, it must be hoped that as much of the roadmap articulated in the document as is practical is embraced.

Updated Date: Aug 21, 2017 07:44 AM

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