India needs far larger investment in sports than it sees currently
India’s raising a toast to Mirabai Chanu, Lovlina Borgohain, and PV Sindhu for their podium-finish at the Tokyo Olympics. Now, the men’s hockey team will play against Germany for the bronze while the women’s team made history on Monday by entering an Olympic semi-final for the first time ever. The cheers they are getting are richly earned. Each win so far—and this is not just about the medals in the list—is, without doubt, a story of grit and gumption.
Twenty-six year old Chanu gathered firewood as a child; as a 12-year-old, her elder brother reminisced not so long ago, she would lift much heavier bundles than him. Growing up battling hardship—one parent a contractual junior level employee with the state government and the other a street-food vendor—Chanu’s victory is as much her personal triumph as it is a beacon of hope for millions of Indians without privilege.
Borgohain (whose father never had the resources to nurture her sporting ambitions), the women’s hockey team’s Neha Goyal (for whom the sport represents an escape from both poverty and abuse at home), Nikki Pradhan (whose sister worked as a labourer to buy a hockey stick) and many others in the Indian Olympics contingent who may or may not get celebrated, all battled great odds and emerged the best in their sport, from a billion-plus population.
What is probably even more striking is that Indian sportswomen now hold the baton of India’s Olympic showing. From Karnam Malleswari to Mary Kom to Saina Nehwal and Sindhu to Sakshi Malik to, now, Chanu and Borgohain, if India’s flag has been raised at the Olympics podium in the last couple of decades, it has largely been because of its sportswomen.
However, despite the grit and gumption, gold (and more silver and more bronze) still eludes, Olympics after Olympics, championship after championship. In a country where the best sportspersons are those whose dreams would have died had there been no support—from the state, charities, corporates, etc—larger government funding is the only ticket to better showing at sporting events.
Yet, ‘Khelo India’, the scheme and the slogan, notwithstanding, the Centre cut the sports budget this fiscal by 8.16%, as per news reports. While almost the entire amount was to be spent under revenue heads, the capex, at a measly Rs 46.73 crore, is lower than last year’s Rs 51.02 crore. To be sure, the pandemic has queered the pitch last year and this year too. But, India has historically been a low spender when it comes to sports. And this is not just about the Centre, the states have done even worse.
China spends more than 200 times what India does, and, today, it is at the top of the medals list at Tokyo. Even with drastic cuts to the sports budget in recent years, Brazil is spending more than India does and has 14 medals, including three gold, to show for it. India needs to keep in mind that if it is not to fail its sportspersons, especially its sportswomen, it will have to put money where its mouth is. Else, it will end up a nation of dreams killed—like those of Rashmita Patra, who once represented India internationally in women’s football and is now selling paan.