Does India Spend Enough To Win At the Olympics? While the country is cheering rare feats at the Tokyo Olympics, the medal tally could have been higher had the athletes got access to better infrastructure

By Ashmita Bhogal

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With respect to the Olympics, 2021 was a fantastic year as India sent its largest ever contingent of 120 athletes who competed for 85 medals and won a gold in the field of athletics after 121 years.

Neeraj Chopra, who due to COVID-19 restrictions spent 400 days without competition or overseas training trips, came up with a brilliant performance and won a gold medal in javelin throw, making the whole nation proud.

Apart from the gold medal, India secured couple of silvers won by wrestler Ravi Kumar Dahiya and weightlifter Mirabai Chanu. In addition, India grabbed four bronze medals won by P.V. Sindhu, Lovlina Borgohain, Indian Men's Hockey Team and Bajrang Punia.

Despite the fact that India finished with its best ever Olympic-tally, the country is far behind what has been achieved by countries such as the US which won a total of 113 medals including 39 gold and China which maintained its record and won a total of 88 medals including 38 gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics. Not to forget, India drew blank in disciplines such as archery and shooting despite having world's top rankers.

So, the question arises why and where does India lag despite being a nation with the second-largest population and sixth-largest economy by GDP in the world?

A loophole which gives us a justified answer is not enough is spent on sports and its facilities which plays a crucial role in an athlete's performance.

Let's talk about the US, which is the only country with an Olympic Committee that has not been backed up by federal government. Rather, the United States Olympic Committee relies on private funding.

As per an article published in Bloomberg, the US Olympic Committee gives out about $50 million to 40 national sports federation to help athletes in their medal quest.

Moreover, another thing which athletes resort to is crowd-funding. Like for instance, in 2016, Kyle Snyder, a member of the 2016 Olympic freestyle wrestling team, turned to crowd funding and created a GoFundMe account to raise money for covering the travel expenses of his family. And he raised about $25,401 through his crowd-funding effort.

In an article, Derek Thompson of The Atlantic explains why counties like the US tend to so perform well at the Olympics. He says these countries are powered by sophisticated infrastructure which is unlikely to be found in a developing country like India.

China is no different. According to the General Administration of Sport of China, in 2016 it received $651 million (4.5 billion yuan) in government funding, an uptick of 45 per cent from 2011. Along with this China has 5,000 thousand sports schools and which impart rigorous training to children from the tender age of six which in turn leads to a well-strategized plan for the Olympics.

Not using resources strategically

Olympics has always been a white elephant for India. Why? Let us try to understand.

Even though India's Khelo India Program focuses on "reviving India's sports culture at the grass-root level by building a strong framework for all sports played in our country and establishing India as a great sporting nation", there seem to be flaws in the system.

For developing sports infrastructure in India, the Sports Authority of India is primary body. However, athletes constantly criticize about sports equipment provided by the authority being outdated and not up to the international standards. And, when athletes are provided with updated equipment, they take time to get acquainted with these, leaving them short of time to prepare for mega international events.

Apart from this, there are hardly any grass-root program for development of young athletes from a tender age.

In the 2020-21 Union budget, the government of India allocated INR 2,826.92 crore (about $380 million) for sports, which represented an increase of INR 50 crore (about $6.75 million) from the revised estimates of 2019-20, but was lower than the budget estimate.

A chunk of the allocation was directed towards Khelo India Games which saw a hike of INR 312.42 crore (about $46 million), from a revised amount of INR 578 crore (about $78 million) in 2019-20 to INR 890.42 crore (about $120 million). However, the National Sports Development Fund saw a reduction from INR 77.15 crore (about $10.4 million) in 2019-20 to INR 50 crore (about $6.75 million) in 2020-21. Even the budgetary support for meritorious sportspersons was reduced by almost 40 per cent from the previous financial year.

India's allocation of funds for equipment was less that countries such as Indonesia and Iran during the last Asian Games.

Prioritizing sports

The last time India organized a large multi-disciplinary international sporting event was the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010, which ran into corruption and waste of money.

Between 2005-06 and 2010-11, the Centre spent INR 5,882 crore through the ministry of youth affairs and sports to upgrade or set up new sporting venues. The biggest chunk of spending, INR 2,875 crore, happened in 2009-10.

That year, the spending unrelated to 2010 Commonwealth Games of this ministry stood at INR 473 crore. The money could have been channeled to give adequate sports facilities for athletes and it could also have been used for giving incentives to sportspersons.

According to a report published by ASSOCHAM, there are some other issues such as availability of land, restriction in the participation of private sector, ageing technology, unsustainable business models and complex policy implementation and regulations, which also plays a large role in deficiency of sports development in India.

In a nutshell, to be a leader in sports, due consideration should be given to the condition of the state of sports infrastructure in India by addressing key issues and by incorporating proper planning for the sports infrastructure. Additionally, providing new and upgraded technological instruments for training, India can achieve its objective of acing it at international-level championships.
Ashmita Bhogal

Junior writer

Student at Banasthali Vidyapith, Intern at Entrepreneur India.

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