India’s Rio Olympics prospects could be affected after the Centre diverted more than Rs 100 crore from funds earmarked for training, to host the South Asian Federation (SAF) Games in poll-bound Assam, the home state of Union sports minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
The SAF Games were held in Guwahati and Meghalaya capital Shillong in February, barely two months ahead of the assembly polls in Assam on April 4 and 9.
Sonowal, the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate, had pushed for holding the Games in the state where the party is making an all-out bid to capture power for the first time.
Repeated efforts to reach the sport minister failed as he was busy campaigning in Assam. His office staff promised to get back with a response but didn’t.
Officials at the Sports Authority of India (SAI) -- the government body which trains players for major events – said the situation was not encouraging at regional training centres including Patiala and Bengaluru where the core group of athletes is training.
“The current funds will last six to eight weeks. The situation will worsen if (more) funds don’t come in soon,” a senior SAI official told HT on the condition of anonymity.
SAI’s annual budget for 2015-16 was Rs 385 crore but was later cut to Rs 283 crore to divert funds for the February 5-12 event in Assam. The government has allocated Rs 345 crore for 2016-17.
Though India has remained at the bottom of the Olympics medal tally over the years, at a recent review meet for the August 5-21 Rio event, the sports ministry set a target of 12 medals, double the number the country won at the 2012 London Games.
SAI director general Injeti Srinivas admitted the funds shortage but hoped “it should be sorted out soon” the sports body’s executive director handling its finance, Hira Ballabh, said there was “enough funds for national camps”.
“Besides, there is a possibility of getting additional funds,” he added. Union sports secretary Rajeev Yadav did not respond to text messages.
Sources said Sonowal had taken the initiative for hosting the event in Assam for development of sport in the region.
Initially, the ministry had proposed a budget of Rs 135 crore which escalated to over Rs 200 crore, and included renovation of infrastructure. After the Pathankot terror attack, the need for foolproof security led to the home department’s budget shooting up further.
Sources in SAI said funds from the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) and youth department were also used for the Games inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Besides preparations for Rio, SAI’s plan of expanding hostel facilities for the high-performance athletics academy, in coordination with the Athletics Federation of India (AFI) at the Capital’s Nehru Stadium has also been stalled, sources said.
This is despite SAI appointing foreign expert Derek Boosey to oversee the academy.
SAI had also planned to set up a wrestling academy at its regional centre in Sonepat, Haryana, but the move too has been put on hold due to fund crunch.