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Saturday, Nov 16, 2019

Opinion | Turning India into a sports superpower

The government is committed to creating a transparent ecosystem that nurtures sporting talent right from a young age, throughout their careers.

opinion Updated: Oct 04, 2018 12:18 IST
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore
Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore
Union sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore with Asian Games winners at a felicitation ceremony in New Delhi.
Union sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore with Asian Games winners at a felicitation ceremony in New Delhi.(Amal KS / HT File )

We have just honoured the best sporting talents of the country with Arjuna Award, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, and the time seems right to speak about the vision that we have been nurturing and executing in order to create a holistic ecosystem for sports in India - one that is transparent, robust and world-class.

Earlier this month, we had a felicitation ceremony for medal winners of this year’s Asian Games. This has been the best performance by India at the Games since we started participating in 1951, with a total medal haul of 69, and needless to say, there was enough reason for celebration.

The winners, 31 of who are of 21 years of age or less, deserve all the honour and recognition for bringing glory to the country. But even as we revelled in the joy of one fabulous, powerful performance, we opened up the conversation about the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2020. A countdown to the Olympics flashed on the screen as the ceremony veered to the end, and the message was clear, we were happy with what we have achieved, but we were not going to stop at that or rest on those laurels. That, in a nutshell, is the vision for sports in India, not just for 2020, but for many years to come - we will stop at nothing till India is hailed as a sporting superpower in the world. And why should we not be a superpower? We are a country of 1.3 billion, which will be the youngest country in the world by 2020, and all we need is to find sporting talent at a young age and give them the right platform. To this end, our government is completely committed. The idea is to create an ecosystem that nurtures sporting talent right from -the early years, right through their careers, though a transparent system.

Transparency is indeed, key. Now, on my way to the office, I see the benches where so many of my athlete friends, and I would sit for hours while waiting for sports officials to hear us out and help us overcome the hurdles in the system. Therefore, as a sports minister that was my first task - to get rid of the word “Authority” and change it to “Accessibility” - to make the best sports facilities available to every deserving athlete, easily. In that sense, I think of myself as one of them, and not as just the sports minister. I have been there, know the hurdles and am working towards ending them.

I am also extremely lucky to have the leadership of Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who believes that sports is an indelible part of a child’s life and is incredibly important for his or her overall growth. In keeping with this vision, the approach that we have adopted is ground-up. We are identifying sporting talent at as young as eight years old through our Khelo India Scheme and training them for the future. Starting this year, we have identified 1,200 children from across the country, who will receive an annual financial grant of 5 lakh rupees for a stretch of eight years. To this pool, we will add 1,000 children every year. This means that a talented child, no matter what social background he or she comes from, will have the chance to pursue the sport without the family having to worry about where the money for training will come from. In these eight years, under the guidance of our coaches and through a sustained pattern of training and monitoring, we will be able to identify medal winners for our major international events. The Khelo India School Games has been another big success. It is for the first time that school games have been organised at such a massive scale, thus giving school children a chance to compete and win at the national level.

A lot of athletes face their first hurdle to pursue sport, at home. Parents are often unsure if concentrating on a game can ensure a stable future for their children. Therefore, creating awareness among parents, about the schemes available to their children so that they can take up sports as a career, is also on the agenda. The idea is to bring out a change in mindset that begins with every Indian family. And this is possible only if we are able to provide a roadmap for a child’s sporting career and secure him financially. Both of these are now happening, and it is only a matter of time before parents decide that at least one child in a family will be a sportsperson.

Besides fresh talent, we also have a rich existing pool of top athletes who are already making the country proud. They are part of the TOPS (Target Olympics Podium Scheme) programme and every effort is on to ensure that they get the best of training that is available in their sport, anywhere in the world. And, I can very proudly say that money is not a constraint for any athlete who is a medal probable. We have been having training camps for them in venues ranging from Poland to Patiala and with top coaches who are the best in business in the world. Alongside, a high performance network of coaches, academics and sports science specialists have been created, drawing the best talent from India and abroad, who are helping athletes maximise their strengths and work on their weaknesses in a way that they achieve their personal best and make a mark against other international athletes. As an incentive, TOPS athletes are also being given an out of pocket allowance of Rs 50,000 per month, which is over and above all the training, coaching, training, travel expenses that is borne by the government.

We are also encouraging the use of technology in the process of training, and that is the other big change. We have created a system of recording figures on training, performance, injury and other similar parameters so that trainers in the high performance network can use the data to analyse the performance of a player and athletes scientifically.

This year, we have also been able to come up with the first sports university of the country in Manipur. In the past one year, we have created several national academies where young athletes are training under foreign coaches. There are doctors, physiotherapists and masseurs working together to provide the best training for them. We have increased the remuneration of top Indian coaches from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 2 lakh a month just so that we can attract better teachers. To attract the best international talent, we have not kept a cap on remuneration for foreign coaches.

We are also creating an app of ‘Where to Play, How to Pay and Finding the Next Champion’. Through this, we will map all the sports fields across the country, so that accessibility to this facility becomes easier for everyone. The other programme that we are working on is the Community Coaching Development through which, we will develop community coaches. There are 1.52 lakh Physical Education Teachers engaged across the country, and 2000 of them will be trained to become master trainers every year, who in turn will train other teachers. This step will ensure better physical training in schools too.

All the schemes are aligned to just one end – that of making India a country where sports is priority.

Times are changing and India must change too. It is perhaps for the first time that we have a holistic, 360 degree approach to sports in India, and this is sure to change how the world views us in the sports arena.

Rjyavardhan Singh Rathore is Union minister for youth affairs and sports