Eighteen months since her first race, and already Hima Das has made history. By winning the gold in the 400 metre final of the U-20 World Athletic Championships in Finland, Das has done India proud in a sport that has only seen a handful of Indian stars. The daughter of a rice farmer, hailing from Nagaon district, Assam, her story is undoubtedly inspiring. Playing football with her friends from her village, Das changed track—pardon the pun—to athletics after a local coach advised her to do so. After getting spotted at an inter-district athletics meet by her current coach, she was inducted into the Assam sports academy though the academy had no separate wing for athletics, focusing as it did on football and boxing.
Her win should herald a new dawn for athletics in India. Over the past decade, Indian sport has seen a sea of change in terms of the value ascribed to players in non-cricket sports. Sports is still evolving into a viable profession in the country, but given the interest this could build in athletics, and the rapid rise in broadcasting and sponsorship interest, Das’s feat is a shot in the arm for those who are eyeing a career in sports. Indian sports viewership numbers increased by 30% over the period of 2014-2015 and the amount of money invested by private sponsors in India grew by 12.5% y-o-y, to a sum of Rs 5,190 crore in 2015. Since then, though, with the expansion of the domestic “league” extravaganzas (IHL, IPL, PKL), the sums must have increased further. The IPL model, with top corporate sponsorship, should help India develop as a sports powerhouse, especially when government support towards the sustainable development of the sport—demonstrated by the Centre’s and state governments’ per day per capita expenditure figure on sports (0.02 rupees)—is poor. Solely private or government programmes can’t provide the development that sports infrastructure and training requires. If India wants to improve its track record in global sports—and if the Khelo India vision is to be realised—a coordinated approach, where the government facilitates sports development as a profitable activity for the private sector, is needed.