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Racing past the red tape

It took private players in the telecom sector just ten years to achieve the impossible. Indian sport awaits a similar shot at unchained glory, writes Harsha Bhogle.Leaders at the summit

india Updated: Oct 23, 2009 11:13 IST

Indian sport at the moment is a bit like an inefficient public sector unit. You don’t need to be competitive, you depend on the government, you are not really accountable and quality doesn’t really matter because that was not the reason you were conceived in the first place. So, we can talk about it all we want but till such time as we change the reason for the existence of Indian sport, we will make no progress.

In 1991, we had no option but to open up our economy and become competitive and in the years since we have seen the dramatic effect it has had on entrepreneurship, on the self-belief of a new generation and we have seen the arrival of that great quality that lay in forced hibernation: ambition. Sport, not quite being a matter of life and death, hasn’t faced the urgency to become relevant. It can continue to remain outdated, to remain an island of irrelevance in a sea of modernity.

There is only one way out for Indian sport and it needn’t wait till 2020.

It needs to get out of government control for that is breeding inefficiency and callousness. When you can survive on handouts, why would you want to work hard? And it angers me. I cannot understand it, because we have seen the past and the present of this attitude in Indian industry.

We must hate sport with a passion if we allow it to wallow in a system of governmental largesse.

I have long recommended either total disinvestment or a public-private partnership. The government must lay down norms and get out of the execution as quickly as possible. If we could do that with airports, with highways, with the metro, with oil exploration, we can do it with far more dramatic results in sports. And don’t worry about private enterprise catering only to the box-office, we can easily build in the need to promote archery and weightlifting in our agreements.

And in any case no one can love sport less than we do now.

Just as the government cannot produce Jab We Met or Lagaan, it cannot produce champions in sport where you need to nurture and encourage and do all the things a government donation cannot. Producing an Olympic medal needs to have the same degree of commitment that producing a world-class software unit or a motorcycle plant or a petrochemical complex does. It requires ownership and that cannot happen till such time as creating a mess is allowed. We are not too bad at it actually.

So my vision for sport for 2020 is not too different from what it was a few years ago. Divest from Indian sport with immediate effect, stop all handouts since we cannot demand performance and accountability, and give it out to entrepreneurs who love sport and who feel the need to market it.

Then, give them incentives for producing infrastructure, for producing medals at various levels, essentially unlock Indian sport from the cruel chains it is bound in now and see how we flourish as a nation. The government should not be in sport and I am indeed amazed that it feels the need to. Maybe the government means well but at the moment it is harming sport.

In 2020, I dream of Olympic medals, of tapping into the dreams of young men and women, of India being seen as a global sporting power. Ten years ago, we didn’t think telecom would be where it is. We allowed the private sector initiative to take it ahead and it is unrecognisable from where it was. I dream of a similar story with Indian sport. Today, the clear stream of reason has lost its way in the dreary desert sand of dead habit. I dream of ever-widening thought and action, of that heaven of freedom. How long will we deny ourselves the right to progress?

Bhogle is a well known cricket commentator.