Why India’s athletes and sports federations should not be worried that budgets have been ‘reduced’ in an Olympic year

Should then India’s athletes and National Sports Federations be worried that the budgets have been ‘reduced’ in the Olympic year? We try to simplify matters:

G Rajaraman February 04, 2020 08:51:01 IST
Why India’s athletes and sports federations should not be worried that budgets have been ‘reduced’ in an Olympic year
  • In the last Budget, Assistance to National Sports Federations was estimated at Rs 245 crore but the actual spends on that account ended up at Rs 300.85 crore.

  • There is no doubt that India can do with a lot more influx of finances into its sport. But with the creamy layer of just around 300-500 athletes, the elite are fairly well provided for.

  • With the budget estimate providing for assistance to National Sports Federations remaining pegged at Rs. 245.00 crore, National Sports Federations need not have hit the panic button.

The first reactions in the Indian sporting firmament to the Union Budget were not the most encouraging. They suggested that in raising the allocation for Khelo India and ‘reducing’ the financial assistance to National Sports Federations, someone was missing the woods for the trees. In the absence of a word from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, that view gained ground.

Viewed from the distance, from well before the 118-member Indian contingent returned with two medals from Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has been quite liberal in accepting every demand that athletes have been able to justify. It has been responsive to the needs of the athletes that it would not risk reducing their budgeted allocation.

Why Indias athletes and sports federations should not be worried that budgets have been reduced in an Olympic year

File image of Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. PIB photo

Should then India’s athletes and National Sports Federations be worried that the budgets have been ‘reduced’ in the Olympic year? Firstly, most of the preparations for the Olympic Games will already have been completed and the expenses of the elite athletes (some qualified and many yet to qualify for the Olympic Games) have already been sanctioned by the Target Olympic Podium.

Let us try and simplify matters.

In the Budget, three accounting heads directly affect India’s elite athletes and National Sports Federations — Assistance to National Sports Federations, Incentives to Sportspersons and National Sports Development Fund. A fourth accounting head, National Welfare Fund for Sportspersons, looks after the needs of outstanding former sportspersons living in indigent circumstances.

The biggest component, Assistance to National Sports Federations, covers costs of sending teams abroad for training and competition, for conducting international tournaments in India, for conducting National Championships and for procuring sports equipment. Besides, assistance is extended in conducting coaching camps to prepare national teams and employing foreign coaches.

In the last Budget, Assistance to National Sports Federations was estimated at Rs 245 crore but the actual spends on that account ended up at Rs 300.85 crore. It shows that the Ministry has managed to secure an extra 22 per cent funding for the National Sports Federations in the year 2019-20.

If anything, there was a sharp drop on this account from Rs 342.00 crore to Rs 245.00 crore between 2018-19 and 2019-20. No National Sports Federation or athlete cried hoarse when this happened, not even when the amount was revised to Rs 245.13 crore in the budget presented on 5 July, 2019. It does come as a surprise that athletes and Federations have rung alarm bells now.

Why Indias athletes and sports federations should not be worried that budgets have been reduced in an Olympic year

If the National Sports Federations find the Ministry’s support — financially — in some critical areas like training of junior athletes and their exposure trips, training of elite athletes and their trips for competition overseas as well as to conduct international events in the country so that more Indian athletes can experience the taste of top-class competition, they should not be complaining.

Least of all the National Rifle Association of India, which secured assistance to the tune of more than Rs 100 crore in the six financial years. “Khelo India does not produce athletes for the Olympics,” NRAI President Raninder Singh was quoted by The Hindustan Times as saying. “Khelo India is a a good programme, which brings children from the grassroots to the mainstream. But once in the mainstream, it is the NSFs who groom them and bring them to international standards.”

He has shown little understanding of the fact that entries to the Khelo India Youth Games, especially in the under-17 category, are decided on the basis of performances in the National Junior Championships and the SGFI National School Championships. Khelo India is only a platform on which the best juniors compete.

Clearly, Raninder has also bought into the popular perception that it is the budget for Khelo India Games which has been enhanced from Rs 500 crore to Rs 890.42 crore. Surely, the umbrella programme for development of sports includes a number of heads beyond the Games itself. For instance, the scholarship to athletes to train in select academies and Centres of Excellence.

Perhaps, the Ministry itself will now realise how, as an idea and as a brand, Khelo India has come to be identified with the annual sports meets that it conducts for the best junior talent in the country. Many find it hard to associate the term Khelo India with the entire gamut of junior sports programmes, including training and international competition.

From what one understands, all National Camps for junior athletes will now be held under the aegis of Khelo India. In any case, with the budget estimate providing for assistance to National Sports Federations remaining pegged at Rs. 245.00 crore, National Sports Federations need not have hit the panic button.

If anything, the rise in the budget for junior programmes should make National Sports Federations see the possibility of young talent being nurtured better than some of the earlier generations of junior athletes. They can now possibly include a lot more competitions for juniors in their ACTC (Annual Calendar for Training and Competition) submitted to the Ministry each year.

The accounting head Incentive to Sportspersons includes scholarships granted to many athletes, National Sports Awards, rewards given to athletes and coaches for their achievement at the international level as well as pension to a number of former sportspersons. With the Ministry having cleared the backlog, it has been able to bring the provision to Rs 70 crore now.

There is no doubt that India can do with a lot more influx of finances into its sport. But with the creamy layer of just around 300-500 athletes, the elite are fairly well provided for, including a generous Rs 50,000 per month out of pocket allowance to athletes included on the TOP Scheme, besides the spends on their training and competition around the world.

To be sure, the Budget does not seem to provide for a rapid expansion of basic sports infrastructure across the country to make more youngsters see sport as a way of life and a more attractive option. Nor does it encourage States and Union Territories to fast-track sport as an indicator of health of their residents.

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