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Game Changer - Why SAI needs to become a marketing organization

This interview with Sports Authority of India Director General - Jiji Thomson - highlights almost everything that is wrong with the Sports administration in India. Thankfully, Thomson seems to be aware of all the lacunae himself and is taking on each issue head-on; and while it seems that the new government at the Center is being more proactive, he still needs more executive support.

I want to relate my personal experience in this regard. I am not a sports person - so much so that I have never enjoyed playing any sport (with exception of swimming perhaps) - in fact I don't enjoy watching sports as well. However, being brought up in a PSU township at BHEL Bhopal, I had the privilege of enjoying some of the best sporting facilities then available in India. So, even a non-enthusiast like me spent a lot of time playing badminton in a professional covered court, football in a well organized ground (unlike the uneven patches most people get to play in) and had my tryst with learning to play volleyball properly (should mention that volley ball was something I played in school as well - so thanks to my school sports teachers for that).

Last December, when I was in Bhopal after almost 4 years, I felt like visiting the Sports complex for nothing but stoking my nostalgic feelings. The saving grace is that I have a morning jog routine, and the Sports complex is about a 5 minute drive from my home - so here I was running through the length and breadth of the Sports Complex expecting 12 year old kids and 25 year old athletes running on the track, playing badminton, practicing volleyball and basketball, and strategizing how they'd play their opponent PSU team in the next hockey match.

The scene that met me however was a stark contrast - I seemed to be the youngest person out here for a morning jog, most others were elderly gentlemen close to my father's age. Young lads of my age or younger seemed more like the local goons, and rather than jog, they were busy burning fuel from their bikes and scooters. The cricket ground was bereft, the badminton and volleyball court was shuttered, the basketball court was unkempt and the tennis court was close to developing cracks all over the turf. The only part maintained with greenery was the golf course probably because the ED of BHEL, Bhopal must be using the facility. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.  
It's not that the state of Sports was far better in my childhood, it could have been worse - players and athletes didn't get funding and support, there was (and still is) massive corruption and bureaucracy in Sports administration, most sports persons could make their two ends meet only because they were given jobs by the PSU's or Police or State Governments and morale was low. 

But, Sports facilities like the BHEL Sports complex, though might not have been world class, were an oasis of hope for Sports people. There was a current of enthusiasm and camaraderie among the coaches and talented players in these places. This was like the University campus which sprouts talent simply because there's an whiff of potential success in the air, and a contagious optimism and self referential encouragement among the players themselves helped keep this alive. 

What the decay of Sports facilities has done is take away that nascent energy housed in these institutions and hence what SAI first needs to do is become a marketing agency which will create a positive environment for popularization of sports in India.

How the decaying infrastructure like the BHEL Sports Complex should be maintained is a different topic which I will continue discussing in my next post.

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