In 2012, a 16-year-old girl from Odisha became the national champion in 100meter race (under-18), by clocking in at 11.8 seconds.
Before the national win, this girl – coming from a BPL (below poverty line) family in the backward district of Jajpur in Odisha – had won Rs.3000 in a State marathon. Instead of using it for her training or even as pocket money, she gave the cash to her mother – because her family’s financial situation was so bad at the time that they rarely had three square meals a day.
Although she was a champion in most sports activities in school, she had no access to equipment or facilities needed for training. She practised running on river bank and road side, because there was no proper ground for running practice. After finishing fifth standard though, she got admission at a sports hostel owned by the State, and started proper training there.
Her performance started improving there, and she started getting medals nationally and internationally. Today we know her as the fastest runner in the country - Dutee Chand. In July this year, she became the first Indian woman to clinch a gold medal in the World Universiade held in Europe, and thus the first Indian to win a 100m gold in a global event. Dutee has also won a silver each in 100m and 200m in the 2018 Asian Games.
Dutee’s is the rare rags-to-riches story in Indian sports; it shows that with the right training, winning global titles is possible. But, in Dutee’s words, there is no adequate training or even facilities like running grounds, swimming pools, and gyms, and neither do we have trained coaches and dieticians in India. Sportspersons have to practise and adapt their bodies to every season/weather; but for the women athletes in India - especially those from underprivileged sections – hurdles are too many to get to the world stage in sports.
Unarguably, the US and China are world leaders in sports and athletics. Both nations have integrated sports into their educational system, so that from childhood itself, their people can be involved in athletics and access state-of-the-art facilities provided by the government. In Australia too, more than $16 billion is spent every year in community sports infrastructure.
China, as part of its National Fitness Program, started investing in sports infrastructure in 1995. On the other hand, India is lightyears behind appropriate facilitation for athletics.
But infrastructure is the backbone of sports. Indian government’s policy think tank NITI Aayog, in its action plan ‘Let’s Play- An Action Plan to achieve 50 Olympic Medals’, has also recommended development of infrastructure through private -public partnerships (PPP). It also urges for the devotion of a fixed portion of school expenditure towards maintaining and enhancing sporting infrastructure and equipment.
Let’s do better
As per the PwC-ASSOCHAM report on sport infrastructure 2019, availability of land and ineffective utilisation of existing infrastructure are among the major hindrances to the training of sportspersons in India.
The report recommends that sports infrastructure be treated as an integral part of urban planning so that adequate resources are budgeted for development and sustenance. According to the report, India currently houses around 100 sports facilities of international standards. But, it adds, government-owned college and university grounds, community centres, sporting facilities and grounds owned by urban local bodies, are often neglected in terms of maintenance.
“As a first step, identification and consolidation of information on existing sporting facilities need to be undertaken to help upgrade and refurbishment. These facilities can then be promoted to ensure better utilisation of facilities and sporting and training infrastructure by potential sportspersons,” the report says.
State to fund more
Although the Sports Authority of India (SAI) looks after stadiums and fields on behalf of the sports ministry, the bulk of the infrastructure is under the purview of State governments. Bureaucratic hierarchy and red tape are concerns here, as is suitable amount of funding.
Recently, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has launched Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) under the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) for providing financial assistance to athletes for customized training in world class institutes/academies within the country and abroad.
In the Interim Budget presented by then Finance Minister Piyush Goyal in February 2019, Rs 214.2 crore was allocated to the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry. The allocation was increased to Rs 450 crore in the budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in July, with an added fillip of widening the Khelo India programme by announcing the setting up of a National Sports Education Board (NSEB).
The problem, however, lies in the implementation of policies in a transparent and speedy manner and without gender-bias in its distribution of resources. Even in a country where cricket has become religion, women’s team does not get a fraction of attention and resources that the men’s team gets.
Fight like a girl!
The guarantee of a government job has always attracted economically backwards sections to excel in sports. Dutee herself was an employee of the Railways, with an initial salary of Rs.15000. However, in comparison to the crores which male cricket players make, women have little scope of achieving financial security through sports.
In an interaction with MAKERS India, Dutee had said that most athletic careers end after the age of 30, since the body will be prone to injuries and weakness by then. “If I have to quit, I will probably open an academy, or work for the society,” she had added.
The UNESCO recognises the right to practice of sports and physical education as fundamental among human rights. In India, women’s rights movements are growing, and equality of opportunity in pursuing sports is among its causes.
As Alpine skier Mishael Kanwal says, “Indian sportswomen don’t wait for freedom. They set themselves free. India has a long way to go in terms of women’s sports, and they need to be encouraged with funding and helping them break social barriers.”