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Time for an NREGS for Sportspersons

It is astonishing that India's top sports administration, to the highest level, has been brought to a deadlock over an utterly paltry amount. I think the average national cricket player pays more income tax than the total required to meet the demand of all the national hockey players put together. The problem, clearly, is not of resources, but of attitude.

For decades, now, the country has worked on the principal of 'rough it out' in the most critical sectors - the Army the Police, the Paramilitaries, teachers and, of course, most sportspersons. The more glamorous sports like cricket, tennis, golf, even soccer, get relatively generous deals, but the toughest sports get little more than constant public humiliation. Training schedules in hockey are extraordinarily demanding. Training camps mean a gruelling dawn to dusk regimen; but facilities provided by the Sports Authority of India by way of food, habitation and other amenities are abysmal. We talk of players playing for national pride - but what pride does the nation instil when players are treated like cattle, herded around in sub-standard facilities, with even the minimal commitments made to them unmet? Exhortations to play for 'national colours' are dishonest opportunism, posturing as patriotism.

Those who deprive sportspersons of a fair deal show little appetite for comparable sacrifices in their own lives. Worse, they betray the national cause, failing to understand the enormous psychological significance of sporting victories in a nation's self-image. An international victory in the hockey field would have far greater national impact than a major global acquisition by an Indian corporation. For twenty years, moreover, I have emphasised that sports has tremendous potential for employment generation, not only directly, but through elaborate forward and backward linkages. Sports is an industry, and like any other, unless you invest in it, the returns cannot accrue. Crucially, elite sportspersons are the lynchpin of this industry, but this top layer strengthens in proportion to the depth and penetration of the sport through the country. It is time, now, to be talking, not only of commensurate benefits to India's sports elite, but of a NREGS for sportspersons as well. The outcome of an abundant investment in sports is national glory - something that India desperately needs.


(Published in The Economic Times, January 15, 2010)





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