After seven years National Games are set to happen, between September 26 and October 10. This is thanks to the Gujarat government’s swift decision to play host to the 36th edition of the games. The 35th edition was held in 2015.
A tripartite Host City contract was signed in 2008 between the Goa government, the Olympic Association of Goa, and the Indian Olympics Association for holding the games in Goa in November 2016. After repeated postponements, the Goa government expressed its inability to play host as it could not create the infrastructure. This withdrawal was made recently, 14 years after signing the hosting agreement.
But the postponement of the National Games is nothing new. The neglect of the games started in 1970, and no games were held till 1979. After that, there were repeated postponements. The neglect of the National Games has hindered the development of a sporting culture and excellence in the country.
The National Games on an Olympic scale were first held in 1985 in New Delhi. Holding the games in the Olympic format means the responsibility of organising and selection of the host city rest with the IOA.
The National Games are significant from ,various perspectives. First, it spurs the development of a sporting culture. Sport has a multiplier effect leading to many benefits. It is a unifying force which plays an important role in nation-building.
National Games need to be promoted in a big way, as a mini-Olympics,as they are the only all-India, multi-sport, open format competition. They give a platform to the athletes to showcase their talent on the national stage. For athletes, a good performance at the National Games opens the doors for college admissions and government jobs.
So the National Games must be held every year. The Khelo India Youth Games and the National Games should be held in alternate years. There is need to review the system of allotment of National Games to States; it should be facilitated by the Centre, with IOA being the organiser.
Further, if there is a failure on the part of a State to host the games, , the Centre must step in and organise them. If need be, the games can be organised by the Sports Authority of India, as it has the facilities readily available, particularly in Delhi.
Some States may not be able to afford to host the National Games, while others may have different priorities. Organising these games involves massive preparedness and capacity. Therefore, the allotment of National Games to smaller States like Goa may not be prudent unless they have facilities like Delhi, Haryana, or Punjab.
The IOA must ponder over the matter and not get tangled in domain issues, at least till the capabilities are uniformly developed across India. The organisation and hosting of national events can never succeed if the Centre is kept out of the scheme of things.
Various court orders have stressed on the Centre’s role in national sporting events. The responsibility of allotting and holding of the National Games should rest with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports and not the IOA.
Of late, getting the hosting right of National Games has become an opportunity to get funds from the Centre, as about half the expenditure incurred on the games, right from infrastructure development, is borne by the Centre.
In recent years, the IOA has started allotting these games to States without rigorous assessment of their capabilities, though often the intention was to develop abilities in the States lagging in sports infrastructure.
However, we need to delink Central aid and the creation of infrastructure for National Games from the scheduled hosting. Such aid can be provided under the Khelo India vertical instead.
The writer is Director (Finance) & CFO, Dedicated Freight Corridors Corporation of India Ltd; and a former ED and Secretary Sports Authority of India