Union Budget 2021 India: Participating in sport and being physically active not only has obvious health benefits, but it also helps in improving immunity and general well-being.
By Saumil Majmudar & Parminder Gill,
Indian Union Budget 2021-22: As the presentation of another budget looms on the horizon and considering the drastic impact that the global pandemic has had over the last year, the government of India may look to increase spending on health and education. But another critical area that needs attention is sport, more specifically ‘youth sports’, which can be the key to dramatically improve outcomes in health, education, and overall development of children & youth in the country.
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Participating in sport and being physically active not only has obvious health benefits, but it also helps in improving immunity and general well-being. In children and youth, there are additional benefits such as facilitating better cognitive development and having a positive impact on academics. Community driven sporting interventions also need to be introduced. The government needs to introduce these interventions as part of preventive health programs as part of their expenditure from public health budgets. Sport can be used as a tool to address health issues for children from different sections of society – from solving obesity and other lifestyle diseases for children from higher income groups to inculcating healthy habits for children from disadvantaged communities.
The government has indeed understood the critical role that sport plays in the mental and physical development of children – this is reflected in the goals outlined in the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP). The NEP has outlined ways in which sport and play can – (1) Curtail drop-out rates and ensure universal access to education ; (2) Ensure equitable and inclusive education for all ; (3) Be used as teaching tools in early childhood to ensure foundational literacy and numeracy.
Although the goals outlined are noteworthy, there needs to be sufficient budgetary support to ensure these objectives are met. Presently, one of the issues facing the youth of India is the lack of access to play areas. This issue is a ‘low-hanging’ fruit and can be relatively easily addressed. Although this is a goal of ‘Khelo India’ and ‘Fit India’ programs, other innovative solutions can be proposed. One solution is to use existing infrastructure present in schools and other educational institutions. Currently, their use is restricted to their students, and that too only during the operational hours of these institutions. These available spaces need to be unlocked and made available to the children in the community. Tax breaks can be given to schools and the other educational institutions if they open their sports infrastructure to the public.
Sport is also a great tool to address the gender inequality problem that is still plaguing our nation. Again, although the NEP understands that sport can play a critical role, concrete steps need to be identified. Measures need to be taken that incentivize more girls to participate in sport. An employment guarantee in the form of Physical Education trainer/coaching jobs can be given to girls who pursue sport as a professional career. This will drive more and more girls to pursue sport while still having the safety net of a job. Another way to address gender inequity is by supporting grassroot sport programs that encourages the participation of girls. Another issue for girls is the availability of safe spaces to practice and train in their sport. The solution of opening of sports infrastructure of schools and educational institutions will help in this regard Community based sporting events as mentioned earlier should also be used to drive youth development. Existing schemes of the Sports Authority of India and Khelo India can be expanded with youth development as a primary goal. Sport also needs to made part of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao Yojana and other such initiatives.
Public Private Partnerships
Sports-based interventions need to be made eligible for CSR funding by corporates under health, education and development mandates as outlined by the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. Social enterprises also need to be enabled to raise grants or CSR funds within the country or abroad. This would help these organizations identify additional resources to meet the goals that are outlined in the NEP.
Finally: Currently there are multiple organizations offering sports education programs to educational institutions as well as to the public. But these programs are still classified and taxed as luxury goods at 18 %.
Considering the importance of sport, the government needs to re-categorize these services as essential, and be taxed accordingly.
(The authors: Saumil Majmudar is Co-Founder & Group CEO at Sportz Village and Parminder Gill is Co-Founder & Head at Sportz Village Foundation. Views are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)