Sports Budget 2020–21: Boost for Khelo India, Setback for SAI

While the new budget has seen a major hike for the government’s flagship Khelo India programmes to revive the sports culture in India, only time will tell what effects it will have on India's overall sporting growth. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be the first major test of the revised sports budget.

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Budget Speech FM, Nirmala Sitharaman

India’s annual budget 2020—21, as announced on Saturday, February 1, aims at providing the economy the much-needed stimulus to help it recover from the ongoing slump. Apart from the budget allocations to various sectors of the country’s economy, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has allocated Rs 2826.92 crore to the sports budget for this fiscal year. Set in the backdrop of the 2020 Olympics, does a mere hike of Rs 50 crore from the revised estimates of 2019—20 makes any real sense for the country’s sports is the moot question.

The new budget has seen a major hike for the Khelo India programmes, which primarily came at the cost of reduced budgets for athletes and major infrastructural set-up—the Sports Authority of India (SAI). With 12 medals projected for the Indian contingent in July–August Tokyo Olympics, a lot has been expected from the government. However, it hardly addressed the challenges being faced by the sports sector. The biggest disappointment has been the dip in incentives for athletes, which many believe will take a toll on Olympic-bound athletes’ training regimes.

Setback for SAI and Athletes

India currently has 15,000 athletes of whom 10,000 are getting residential training at SAI. SAI is the nodal body managing the training of athletes, providing the required infrastructure, equipment and other logistics to the country’s sportspersons. At a time when the preparations for Tokyo Olympics are at the peak, the sports budget has come as a major setback to the athletes. The government decided to slash incentives for the top and promising athletes from Rs 111 crore to Rs 70 crore, which meant a steep plunge of Rs 41 crore from the previous fiscal year. It also means the elite athletes registered under Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) have to pay a big price.


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The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports –MYAS- provides assistance to identified talents under the TOPS.

The scheme is aimed at providing athletes with high standard training under the high-performance coaches and managers so that they can win Olympic medals for the country in 2020 and 2024 Olympics.

“The idea of the Scheme is to also keep an eye in the future and fund a Developmental Group of Athletes who are medal prospects for the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 and Los Angeles Games in 2028,” the Mission Olympic Cell (MOC) of MYAS stated.

SAI centres are critical to TOPS as they are responsible for providing training to the athletes and hiring coaches from within and outside the country. It also oversees the overall progress of athletes. A reduced budget for SAI means the infrastructural boon of Indian sports will suffer a major blow. For the next fiscal year, the government has slashed SAI’s budget by more than Rs 100 crore, as it allocated only Rs 500 crore against its actual of Rs 615 crore in 2019–20.

Budget Reduced for NSDFs

Athletes

The revised budget is a hitch for the National Sports Federations (NSFs) as it has been allotted Rs 245 crore, which is Rs 55 crore less than the revised Rs 300.85 budget for 2019–20.

The budget for the National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) has been reduced to symbolic Rs 50 crore from Rs 77.15 crore. NSDF is an important organisation, which provides funds to top-class athletes so that they can excel at international events. These are athletes trained by ‘coaches of international repute’ and they are sponsored during international exposure tours.

The Fund also provides financial assistance for the development of infrastructure and other activities for the promotion of sports. A deduction over Rs 20 crore means sharp decline in the participation of athletes in international events—another important factor that will see slow development of promising athletes.

The allocation for the 2010 Commonwealth Games-SAI stadia renovation has also been slashed to Rs 75 crore from Rs 96 crore of last year.

Big Boost to Khelo India

Budget for key verticals of Indian Olympics sports has been reduced to give a boost to the ruling government’s Khelo India programmes, whose main objective is to revive the sports culture in India at the grassroot level.

Giving its flagship programme a big stimulus, the government has allotted it a surplus budget of Rs 291.42 crore. While the Khelo India Youth Games are over, the University Games are set to commence from February 21, and the nine-day event will be closely monitored.


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However, there is a reason to be worried about seeing Khelo India being promoted over other sporting verticals as it doesn’t have the existing infrastructure.

Currently, it extensively utilises SAI centres built across the country after 1984. Hence, a budget slash for SAI means India’s sporting development could lose the pace in the years to come.

Although people involved in the field of sports and its business didn’t see many positives in the 2020–21 budget, Union Sports Secretary Radhey Shyam Julaniya is not disappointed with the allotments. He even said that “the budget meets our present needs and future aspirations”. “After 60% increase over last year, the big increase would come in 2021–22,” he further claimed.

Justifying the government’s decision to give Rs 50 crore hike to the sports budget, Julaniya said, “MYAS’ expenditure last year was Rs 1723.01 crore. This year the budget is Rs 2776.92 crore. Thus, there is an increase of more than 60% (Rs 1053.91 crore) compared to the previous year. During the current year too, there is an increase in the budget of Rs 560 crore, from 2216.92 crores to 2776.92 crores. Sufficient funds were made available for MYAS and additional funds were provided in supplementary demands.”

However, only time will tell what effects the newly announced budget will have on India’s overall sporting growth. The 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be the first major test of its success or failure.