National Games

By, Sibin Sabu*

National Games is meant to identify and promote sports talent in the country while also developing sports infrastructure. With that objective in mind, the Central government and the government of the host state pumps a lot of money for the conduct of the National Games.

The recently concluded National Games in Kerala had a total budget of well over 600 crore rupees spent mostly on sports infrastructure. However, despite of all the facilities created for the games, the intensity and quality of the competition leaves much to be desired. Several prominent international players, especially those from Badminton and Boxing, gave the event a miss which is a matter of concern.

In other countries, it is common to see several World Records getting broken during their National Games. Over here, breaking a National Record itself is a very rare sight.

Making use of the Sports Infrastructure

It needs to be seen if the state government will be able to make good use of the sports infrastructure and other facilities that were created during the event. It is going to be a considerable challenge and it is inevitable that the government finds a way to use these facilities profitably.

Historically, the creation of such sports facilities has not made any difference to the development of sports in any state.

Delhi had organized the 2010 Commonwealth Games and sports infrastructure worth thousands of crores of rupees had been created in the State. Naturally, Delhi which finished sixth with 27 Gold Medals in the 2007 National Games would have been expected to put up a stronger performance in the current National Games because so much had been spent for the welfare of the sports in Delhi. However, they finished at a dismal 19th position after struggling to win even 5 Gold medals.

Anomalous Behaviour of the Hosts

On the other hand, Kerala which had finished 7th in the previous National Games has climbed to second spot in the medal tally and won 24 Gold Medals more when compared to the last National Games. While this is an indicator of sports talent in the state, this also provides an interesting insight on the performance of host states in National Games.

If we analyze carefully we can discover a strange coincidence. We can find that in recent times, whenever a state has organized this premier event, it has featured in the top 5 in Medal Tally.

Kerala had become the Champions when it hosted the event in 1987. The 1997 National Games was hosted by Karnataka and they won the largest number of medals.

Manipur which had finished 9th in the 1997 National Games, became the overall champions when they hosted the event two years later.

In 2001, it was the turn of hosts Punjab to become the champions. Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh which had won only 11 Gold Medals in 2001 went on to become the Champions when they hosted it in 2002 winning a whopping 94 Gold Medals overall.

Assam had managed to win only a single gold medal and had finished a meager 21st position in 2001. But, in the subsequent 2007 National Games that they hosted, they were the second runners-up winning a total of 38 Gold Medals. In 2011, Assam returned to oblivion finishing 15th overall and winning only 5 Gold Medals.

Jharkhand had been in the 15th position in 2007 National Games. However, they rose to the 5th position when they hosted it in 2011. Now, we see Kerala repeating this trend.

These statistics definitely prove that each state has enough talent to be the best performing state in the country. Yet, they choose to put it on display only when their state hosts the event.

Clearly, there is something amiss somewhere. What can explain this anomalous behavior of the host states in the National Games which spur them to perform only when the Games happen in their host state?

There are a number of reasons contributing to this trend. One major reason is the higher number of participants from the host state and comparatively lesser number of participants from other states.

For example, Kerala is fielding nearly twice the number of participants that it did in 2011 National Games.

The question arises as to why they were not able to participate in the previous edition if they were capable of winning a medal.

The answer to that question reveals an even more disturbing trend – sportspersons cannot meet the finances or they do not get leave from their employer.

In a country where sportspersons who excel in their field are taken away from sports and tied down to a government job, this could hardly be surprising. The medal winners of the current national games will also be given government jobs sooner or later. This is the greatest curse of the sports in India because it does more harm than good for the development of sports.

Old wine in a new bottle

If the government intends to bring about a change in the abysmal performance of our sportspersons in International Competitions including the Olympics, then it must make career in Sports an attractive option instead of handing out government jobs to them.

To make sports an attractive career option, the government must initiate steps to involve the corporate sector to a much greater extent and limit its own involvement to the bare minimum.

Until that happens, every effort to revive sports in this country would be like old wine in a new bottle.

*The author is a Research Assistant at CPPR

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author and need not necessarily reflect those of CPPR

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