Do we need a sports ministry?

Last Updated: Fri, Sep 24, 2010 19:30 hrs

No, says Jaideep Ghosh. They only add to the woes of Indian sport.

A candid confession — this writer didn’t know who the sports minister was before Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa; in fact, that there was a sports minister at all. So why is it relevant to know who the sports minister is? Well, it wasn’t, not till the time the games began to be played off the field.

Dhindsa, who was sports minister in the NDA government, could never have imagined that he would become famous enough to be cornered by the media for interviews. That was until the match-fixing scandal exploded in the world of cricket.

Then we had Mani Shankar Aiyar. His claim to fame, from the beginning, was that he was a reluctant ruler. Being saddled with the portfolio did not add to his sense of humour and he was given to making sour and pessimistic comments, garnished with Shakespearean quotes.

The current incumbent, M S Gill, was peeved when wrestler Satpal Singh, Asian gold medallist and coach of Sushil Kumar, tried to get into the same frame as the minister and Kumar, who had just won the World Championship, during a photo-op post the event.

What is worse is what the minister asked Satpal — "Who are you?" Gill never fails to recount what a great sports fan and sportsman he is, every time he has a microphone in front of him. And he doesn’t know Satpal? Anyone involved with sports at any level should have at least a working knowledge of the people in the field. Especially a minister who claims to be a ‘sports fan’.

In the Indian cultural scenario, sport isn’t exactly a front-runner in priorities. So the ministry, called the Minsitry of Youth Affiars and Sports, is essentially expected to keep things in control, since most sports in India go through the government in terms of clearances, training, finances and events. At least till the time of a crisis.

The sports minister’s brief is to encourage sports and ensure implementation of the national sports policy. But given how we often see athletes living in terrible conditions — at times even serving tea to sports officials — it is evident that none of these policies are seriously implemented.

So do we need a sports ministry, and ministers? Not really. Look at cricket, the most successful sport in India. It is not a financial success because of any government encouragement. Look at hockey, on the other hand, and see how government intervention has made a mess of it.

Perhaps there is a case for having a body, a partnership of government and private entities, to come up and take over sports in India.

We keep going on about how sports should be run by sportspersons, but that isn’t about to happen. The best we can hope for is people who appreciate the achievements of athletes. Gill has never been late in congratulating sportspersons or rewarding them for their achievements. But maybe a little education about his portfolio, and some respect for an athlete who dons the India colours, may help.

Indian sports have had a lot of embarrassment to handle, thanks to gaffes by officials, politicians and even the media. We don’t need to add to the fun, not in this way.

[Jaideep Ghosh is a Delhi-based freelance writer]

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