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6 Aug, 2007

2010 Commonwealth Games Host India Makes Sports Tourism Push

With the Commonwealth Games coming up in New Delhi in 2010, and cognizant of the huge economic and business potential of sports tourism, India has unveiled a policy initiative to upgrade the quality of its decrepit stadiums, attract more competitive events and boost the performance of its players and athletes.

Designed to reap the financial, cultural and national-image advantages of a thriving “sports industry,” the first draft of Comprehensive Sports Policy 2007 has been placed on the website of the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports (www.yas.nic.in) to seek public comments by 25 August 2007.

Part of a wider effort to “create a more global, inclusive economic power”, the policy will lead to massive investments in both hardware and software, from production of equipment and apparel to trainers and managers.

It is also part of the perennial competitive rivalry with China which is to host its first Olympics in 2008. Even South Africa, which only shook off apartheid in 1992, is to host the next soccer World Cup in 2010, arguably the world’s most watched sports event.

Targeted at all stakeholders in both the public and private sectors at the state and federal levels, the new policy is intended to make sports a part of the educational and recreational culture nationwide (boost quantity) improve the performance of teams and individuals (quality) and institute the “constitutional, legal and institutional measures” to implement it.

Once approved and funded, the policy will help provide universal access to sports and physical education for all classes of citizens, in all segments of society and across all age groups, including people with disabilities and Senior Citizens.

It will open opportunities for budding sportspersons to tap financial and other forms of support, boost indigenous games as well as paralympic events, help develop new high-end facilities, and create a new cadre of instructors, scientists/doctors and nutrionists.

It will raise the quality of sports facilities in rural and urban areas, attract public investments in sports infrastructure, and upgrade training centres and sports event management institutions.

The policy will encourage sports tourism, including adventure sports, and develop a strategy on bidding for major events in a planned and professional manner. It will also strive to ensure adequate support for talented sportspersons for gainful employment opportunities after their careers are over.

However, like most things in India, sports is a highly political issue.

On the positive side, the policy is designed to foster national cohesion by ensuring fair opportunities to all talented young sportspersons, irrespective of economic background, social origin, gender or regional location, to fully realise their potential.

On the other, the selection and other processes, which are in the hands of the local sports federations, can be hugely divisive among representatives of the various states, ethnic and religious groups.

To resolve these issues at the local levels, rather than constantly refer them to the central government, the policy proposes establishing a Sports Regulatory Authority.

The policy says that “it is neither feasible nor desirable that Government should take upon itself the burden of intervention when disputes arise within national sports federations (as they do disturbingly often) or when complaints are received about inefficient or inappropriate deployment of funds, mistakes in management, non-accountability for results achieved or not achieved, prejudice or bias in the selection of national teams/athletes, undemocratic or unethical electoral practices, and lack of openness and transparency in functioning.”

A key driver of the policy initiative is the need to bolster national pride.

Inspite of having a population of more than one billion people, Team India does not excel in any sport, rarely produces a world-class sportsman beyond cricket, nor does it have any world class sports events.

It once excelled in hockey but has lost ground in that, too. Cricket is considered a “religion”, and cricket stars are idolised, but the team’s performance is erratic. There is much chagrin that China wins medals aplenty at each of the Olympics while India can consider itself lucky to manage a single gold.

Unlike Thailand, which has a Ministry of Tourism and Sports, India has a Ministry of Tourism and Culture, which means that its tourism policy stresses its history, cultural heritage and spiritual traditions.

However, with India now developing world-class airports, hotels, highways and convention centres, it is felt to be long overdue for sports facilities to follow suit

Already, the benefits of hosting international sports events are becoming apparent. New Delhi, where most of the 2010 Commonwealth Games sporting events will be held, is undergoing a major revamp. Its new underground mass transit system is being widely hailed for its uncharacteristic cleanliness and efficiency.

But there will be downsides. India’s massive illegal betting rackets, especially in cricket, have well-known links with organised crime. These, too, will grow in tandem with the sporting industry as a whole.

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