International events come and go but India has never been able to pose significant competition to sportsmen and women from across the globe. We have had a competitive hockey team which consistently won Olympic medals until the late 1970s but thenceforth things changed. In Olympics India’s recent successes has been well appreciated. These came in events including tennis, badminton, boxing, wrestling, shooting and so on. Now many of these sporting activities like boxing or wrestling or shooting are not commonly seen at least in Kerala. We don’t hear much about clubs which encourage boxing, or wrestling we don’t have many shooting ranges and so on. But why? People don’t even feel the necessity of taking these sports up for the sake of recreation due to a certain amount of prejudice, a bit of lagging encouragement, and due to a large amount of no knowledge about these events. There are no local competitions, no advertisers for it, and nothing of it that your local television operators would feel like exhibiting to the public. In others word, much of these events remain invisible; and yet we have found our gold and silvers in them during the Olympics. So what about the rest of 30 plus event in Olympics. The lack of visibility of much of these events have a lot to do with the fact that there is very little money and information to support it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not mean money spent on sports as the government spends but I mean the money that a sportsman can assuredly earn if he wants to take up these sports as a career option. The state has done a lot, it has also created some useful infrastructure (provided a lot of incentives including jobs etc.) that can be capitalised on. Let me also give credit to the numerous private initiatives that fund various sporting events in India. But are these funds alone sufficient? Sports does not stop at this point when it receives funds; rather it should start from here. So the second thing (in addition to money and information) that has to be considered is on the operational aspect. Who should take forward the operational part of sports in India?
Multiple Entrances for Sporting Events
Let me go straight into the suggestion. The best people who could save sports in India are none other than those who are involved in sporting activities. In that the role of the sportsmen and women are important. So how do they blend their concoction: of generating information, attracting money and operating the sector? Finance in sports comes through definite channels; both private as well as government. But this finance comes only after you prove your skills which in turn requires projecting your capabilities in a major event. Very few people reach those stages. For instance India had send only 83 athletes for the summer Olympics in London in 2012. For events like judo and swimming we had just one participant. Why? Entrance to those platforms has a lot to do with gaining the acceptance of the crowd. And for that the crowd needs to see you. Both of these, entrance as well as crowd, are controlled by several state institutions and hence access to major events, for the participants as well as the audience, remain difficult. I don’t blame the state for it but a single road however well-crafted could make it too crowded to reach the destination. Hence any model that looks at sports in India should be one which provides multiple routes for the participants as well as the audience to access it.
Multiple routes can be opened to the players as well as the audience if we innovate on the existing system of sports activities in India. We have made the point that sportsmen and women would love to have a steady source of finance to sponsor their activities. Just like the search funds in entrepreneurial ventures, sports sector is thus in dire need of funds which in its simplest manner can come from private equity investors, venture capitalists and angel investors. But how do we go about with it. The simplest model would take the same route the search fund managers do. They can convince investors (through proposals) on options of investing and profiting in local stadiums, courts and complexes and informal sporting events which need not be recognized by official sporting bodies. The operational part of these stadiums, events and funds would be taken up by the sportsperson or group. In a period of four to five years the fund should sufficiently help these people to redesign these spaces and organize events for which they can collect fees and sponsors. Depending upon the success of these spaces, they can continue operations, expand activities or sell their stakes with profitable margins. Convincing plans, well devised strategies and support from the local government would prove much to take these concepts forward. This could also develop into events where local schools, sports persons and teams could nurture their talents.
In Kerala one of the sports activities in which young people show much interest is badminton. We have a lot of makeshift courts, poorly designed in open fields, on unused roads and so on, but efficiently used by a lot of local players. Such venues can be operated into active and well managed courts by attracting investments in the manner stated above. Some of these have been formally taken up for reconstruction with local support, but is yet to reach a level which can transform the sector. It is to make these efforts on a large scale that the search fund model could play its part. Sportsperson can bid for funds for a project that would take up such spaces and convert them into attractive sporting facilities that could cater to major events. Revenue from the events can be shared amongst the funders and in the course of time such stakes could be sold on a profit.
We need to save our ailing sports sector. A hundred and twenty five crores and still our fortunes have been meagre in this sector. The root to this crises is the lack of finance for people to help them with their initiatives for a significantly long time until results are shown. There are numerous and unknown cases of sportsmen and women who abandoned their efforts half way either for relatively better options at that point in their career or because it was infeasible to continue with their activities. These people sometimes entered their respective sporting events very early in their careers; but the conditions existing allowed them to gain nothing from either sports or their studies. There was always an opportunity cost; and in India entry into sports risks the cost of education. But there is a caveat, education too was miserably managed in this state and hence the costs were more. It was very difficult to be both good at sports and education simultaneously. A lot of our erstwhile talents were stuck in the purgatory and never found a safe heaven. We need to develop innovative models in our way forward: That’s the challenge for our sports sector.
Rahul V Kumar
Research Consultant, Centre for Public Policy Research