Millennium Post

That game theory to feel good about

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley is, perhaps, the first finance minister who paused during his ‘super’ budget speech to talk of the needs of Indian sport and also doled out fat sums to the youth affairs and sports ministry in his budget allocation.

For the 2014-2015 fiscal, Jaitley has proposed Rs 1,769 crore for Youth Affairs and Sports as against the previous year’s alocation of Rs 1,207.76 crore. The allocation works out to an increase of 46 per cent and it should be wholeheartedly welcomed by sportspersons in the country, even if it is a small beginning keeping in mind the overall context of Indian sport.

Ironically, Jaitley is associated with a sport which is seen as elitist by sportspersons of other disciplines only because of the status the cricketers enjoy and the money they command for their performance. Till recently he was the vice-president of the Indian Cricket Board and president of the Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA). One of Jaitley’s predecessors and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) colleague Yashwant Sinha was also closely connected with sport, as president of the All India Tennis Association (AITA), but not even he thought of Indian sport as much as he has done. Another finance minister, C Subramaniam was also a president of the AITA when it had Lawn included in it (AILTA) and was a keen sports follower but during his time the government could not think of sport in a big way.

Most finance ministers had a perfunctory interest in sports and at least one of them Chaudhury Charan Singh tried his best to cut down on the budgetary allocation for the 1982 Asian Games, saying money need not be wasted raising flyovers all over Delhi for the Games!
Like in most decisions by this government, surely this spurt in the budgetary allocation will also be credited to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, more so the Rs 200 crore allocated for refurbishing the stadiums in the Kashmir valley. Last week, Modi was in the valley and talked of every Indian’s desire to see that the state made progress and the youth got employment.

Carrying forward Modi’s sentiments, Jaitley unveiled some sort of a vision document of the government for sport. Detailing, he said national level sports academies will be set up for major games in different parts of the country with international level facilities for training of accomplished athletes and for nurturing best talent in shooting, archery, boxing, wrestling, weightlifting and various track and field events.

Jaitley is right, and one need not go into the reasons, that J&K has a lot of sporting talent which is not ‘finding expression due to inadequate sports facilities’. Cricket all-rounder Pervez Rasool forced his way into the India team by the sheer weight of his performance and so has footballer
Mehrajuddin Wadoo. Modi’s stamp could also be seen in the allocation of Rs 100 crore for setting up India’s first sports university in Manipur. Like in the case of J&K, Modi promised to carry forward Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s vision for north-east.

If India has to encourage winter sports in a big way, J&K has to be the nodal state along with its neighbour Himachal Pradesh, and if archers, boxers, footballers and even hockey players have to be promoted, north-east is the place to concentrate on.  He has gone a step further and talked of unique sports traditions in the countries and states around the Himalayan region by holding an annual event inviting sportspersons from Nepal and Bhutan.

Jaitley has also not forgotten to help the sportspersons preparing for the Commonwealth Games in a fortnight in Glasgow, Scotland, and the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, in September-October. The national sports federations will be a relieved lot as the sports ministry expressed its inability to fund the trip to the two major sporting events and asked the federations to pay for their passage. Now the Rs 100 crore will come in handy to bale them out.

On paper, most of the decisions announced by the finance minister sound appealing, but it has to be seen when it comes to the implementation and the time-frame to complete the projects. Jaitley deserves to be complimented for sparing so much time in his budgetary speech for sports and the good money he has allotted. A good beginning by the government and at least one veteran sports administrator, also from Jaitley’s party, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, would be happy. He is one sports administrator who has over the years held forth soon after the budget presentation to slam the government for not spending enough on sports.
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