On the eve of the winter session of the Parliament, I join an elite group of athletes that back the passing of the National Sports Development Bill, which, I believe, will herald in a new chapter in Indian sports.
As Indians start to make more lasting impressions on global sporting platforms, it is time the government, federations and the rest of India understand the necessity to provide Indian athletes with the support they require and deserve.
Representing the country for more than a decade, I can tell you the road has not been easy, with the lack of basic infrastructure to ensure that an athlete concentrates on his performance. An Indian athlete, while required to perform to global standards, is provided with a support system that is far from world-class. Historically, he often complains of basic needs not being met, basic desires going unheard. While we may be called the crybabies of Indian sports, we unfortunately have had reasons to complain.
Every athlete is accountable to the billion people he represents and unfortunately the current support system that backs the athlete is accountable to no one but itself. This makes the Bill, which calls for accountability and transparency, to be encouraged.
Contrary to popular belief, I understand that the National Sports Development Bill does not give the government the power to interfere, but provides it with a regulatory framework, through which it can ensure that budgeted expenses are expended by the right people --- the athletes, and ensure that every athlete is treated fairly. As national sports federations (NSFs) have, through the years, built their structures and framework for operation, the focus unfortunately has not been on the athlete. The athlete logically needs to be the nucleus of the system, but is unfortunately just a cog in the wheel.
The Sports Bill will ensure that the focus of the athlete will remain on his sport and personal development. I fortunately have been blessed with a strong personal support system that has ensured that my focus remains on the game and my achievements. However, all of us don't have that privilege and opportunity. It is heartbreaking to hear the stories of national athletes having to deplete family resources to perform at their best. This sad reality of Indian sport needs to change.
India will not be the first country to implement a National Sports Development Law. Europe, North America, UK, France and China are examples of governments implementing regulatory frameworks that ensure their athletes perform at the optimum level by providing them with adequate funding, platforms for competition and other basic requirements. The results are apparent as athletes of these nations continue to rule the medals tally at international events.
There is one person who can ensure that the Tricolour is raised at international platforms - the Indian athlete. A strong Sports Bill will ensure that the national anthem at the Olympics is not the result of individual effort but the result of the nation's efforts.