Sports sector in India: Issues and challenges – Explained, Pointwise


The conclusion of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 brought immense joy to the nation. India won its first gold medal in track and field events of the Olympics. A total of 7 medals were won, which marks India’s best score at the Olympics. However, despite this, India finished 48th in the event. Whereas Japan, with a far less population, came 3rd on the leaderboard.  

Thus, it shows that with the right guidance and hard work, it is not impossible for India to compete against countries like the US and China. The government and the private sector should come forward to support the sportspersons and breed robust sports culture in India. 

India’s Progression in Sports
  1. The country has been winning more medals at international events. This time India won 7 medals (1 Gold, 2 silver and 4 bronze) at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. The country was deemed as a medal contender in multiple sporting events. 
  2. It is a major improvement in comparison to the last few decades when the country used to perform poorly at international levels.
  3. It must also be acknowledged that government support for the sport has been increasing. The government has launched many initiatives for the promotion of the sports sector in India.
  4. Private sector involvement in the sport has increased. Furthermore, the rise of private academies that are involved in the development of sport at various levels is helping strengthen the facilities available to our sportspeople. 
  5. Corporations have come forward to support individual athletes with potential, showing a depth of commitment that was absent earlier.
Benefits of augmenting the Sports Sector

Alternative careers: For those for whom opportunities are few, and jobs are scarce, sport becomes a powerful mobility device. A strong sports sector encourages an average/ poor academic student to make a career in sports.   

Health advantages: Sports induce an individual to keep his/her body in the best form for winning an event. The existence of a sports culture in turn induces the masses to adopt a healthy lifestyle just like the sportspersons.

Channelization of Youth energy: India is having a very young population and is soon going to become the world’s youngest country. In such a scenario, a robust sports sector can help in reaping the potential demographic dividend

Tackling numerous societal problems: Many women perceive sports as an opportunity to escape the confines of a highly regulated life. They use it as a tool to show their potential and tackle the patriarchal mindset. Further success of sportspersons like Mary Kom, Saina Nehwal, etc. have played a pivotal role in curbing the problems of child marriage and son meta preference.

Revenue generation: Developing robust sports infrastructure in the country will allow India to host a greater number of international events. Such hosting boosts tourism in the country and results in enhancing the revenue and employment in the region.

Promotes the spirit of Unity in Diversity: People cheer for the Indian athletes and Indian teams at international events. An improvement in sports automatically fosters the spirit of brotherhood amongst the people of diverse nations. For instance, the Pan India support enjoyed by PV Sindhu enhances belongingness between India’s north and south. 

Issues associated with the Sports Sector

Funding crunch: Indian Government spends way less than China, the US, and other better-performing countries in international sporting events. This induces athletes to do private spending for arranging good quality equipment, training and travelling, thereby creating a very big hurdle for poor people.

Resource Deficit: There is a dearth of good-quality sporting infrastructure available across the country. The government has developed some good stadiums in urban regions, but the situation is very poor in rural regions.

Attitudinal Barriers: Sports is not considered a lucrative career option in our country. Parents encourage their children to become doctors and engineers rather than sportspeople. This is reflected in the popular saying of Kheloge Kudoge hoge kharab; Padhoge Likhoge hoge nawab. It means sports will spoil your life, but academics will give you a king’s life.

High-Performance Pressure: A high degree of pressure is inflicted upon a sportsperson to perform or else be prepared to live a vulnerable life. This sometimes creates excessive mental stress in them or induces them to resort to unethical means like doping. For instance, Indian wrestler Narsingh Yadav wasn’t able to compete in the 2016 Rio Olympics due to doping scandal.

Governance Issues

Sports governance is marred with multiple issues –

  • The expenditure on sports is highly skewed in favour of male athletes and urban regions, in comparison to females and rural areas.
  • There have been allegations of bias and nepotism in the selection process, especially against the lower castes.
  • There is more focus on post-success incentivization rather than pre-success support in India. For instance, the Haryana Government announced a 6 crore reward after Neeraj Chopra won the gold medal in Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Other challenges:

Religious Barriers: Some sports like swimming and athletics require attire that does not fully cover a woman’s body and are against the laws of some religions.

Lack of Sports Culture: India doesn’t have a sports culture wherein people enthusiastically watch sports and promote the same. However, enthusiasm is shown mainly to cricket due to which it easily attracts investment and pays the cricketers a hefty sum of revenue.

Steps taken for the sports sector

National Centre of Sports Sciences and Research (NCSSR):  It aims to support high-level research, education, and innovation with respect to the high performance of elite athletes. The scheme has two components: One is setting up of NCSSR and the other is focused on funding the creation of Sports Sciences Departments in Six Universities and Sports Medicine Departments in Six Medical Colleges.

Khelo India: It is a national program that aims to develop grassroots-level talent by providing them with a national-level platform.

  • It is a Pan India Sports Scholarship scheme that would cover 1,000 most talented young athletes each year across select sports disciplines.
  • Each athlete selected under the scheme shall receive an annual scholarship worth Rs. 5.00 lakh for 8 consecutive years.
  • It is based on Gujarat’s model of “Khel Mahakumbh” in which schools and colleges from across the country participate in 27 different disciplines.

Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS): It aims to identify, groom and prepare potential medal prospects for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Under this scheme, athletes and sportspersons will get customized training from top coaches at modern and well-equipped sports facilities and institutions. In 2020, the government also launched Junior TOPS, a similar scheme to produce Olympic winners in 2028 targeting children as young as 10 – 12 years.

National Sports Development Fund (NSDF): It was established in November 1998 under the Charitable Endowments Act, 1890 with the aim of promoting sports and games in the country.

Suggestions to improve sports
  1. The Government should increase fund allocation to other sports and also ensure equitable allocation of funds across gender and regions. 
  2. It must offer deserving players more jobs and remuneration in order to encourage them to take sports as a career.
  3. Further, Transparency must be brought in the selection procedure of office bearers of the association in order to reduce nepotism in the selection of candidates.
  4. Parents and educational institutions must also encourage the students to excel in sports, not just in academics. This requires an increase in the Sports quota in Universities along with the opening of more universities. Parents can be sensitized with the support of NGOs and civil society groups to put their children in sports. For instance, Bridges of Sports is sensitising the Siddi Community of coastal Karnataka to send their children in sports and also providing the requisite support for the same.
  5. The focus should also be placed on opening more domestic premier leagues like the Indian Pro Kabaddi league. This will bring more money and attention to sports other than cricket. It would also attract the youth to take up diverse sports that were otherwise seen as a risky career.
  6. Apart from sportsperson, the focus should be placed on creating more coaches and physiotherapists. It will help in increasing the trained manpower experts in Sports Sciences and Sports Medicine and will, in turn, reduce the dependency of the foreign experts.

The Government needs to acknowledge that Indian athletes compete less against their sporting rivals and more against the circumstances. They should be given an enabling environment to nurture themselves so as to convert the dream of “Sports for All” into reality.

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