Meghalaya Games 2022 Goof Up: More Than Meets the Eye
By Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh
Not even sports capitalism can salvage the sordid affairs of sports in Meghalaya. Despite the decades of extraction of wealth from coal and other natural resources, neither a standard sports arena nor a premier football team has been established in the mineral and forest rich regions of the State. Following economic liberalization and the implementation of the single window policy, scores of cement plants were given licenses and other big investments from outside the State were allowed along with subsidies. In August 2013 the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs granted Rs 89.09 crores as subsidy to one cement plant in Meghalaya under the Central Capital Investment Subsidy Scheme 2007. But what do we get in return? The contributions toward the society through Corporate Social Responsibility is dismal as compared with the profits these cement plants or other investors are making out of the wealth of the people of Meghalaya. Perhaps, they sponsor only the political parties and during the 2018-19 elections a few cement plants in East Jaintia Hills donated 4.22 crores to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
This writer does not subscribe to sports capitalism on ethical grounds and according to Michael P. Kerrigan, athletes should not be reduced to commodities and exploited for financial gain of owners, corporate sponsors and not respected for their human dignity. Also, the spectators can’t be treated as consumers. The win at all costs, the profit and market driven sports activities had generated sundry scandals, from athletes fixing results to gambling to using of steroids and other performance enhancing substance.
Since the past 50 years, whatever the achievements in the field of sports in the State has to be credited to the efforts made by individuals and communities (both indigenous and non-indigenous). Let us take the case of soccer, the most popular sport in the State; it was the commitment and endeavour of a few individuals, whose efforts had not only improved the standard of playing but more importantly it has helped sustain the game to date amidst various hardships. The community-based sports clubs/associations were the major factor in the development of sports discipline like football in the State, but today their role and contribution are diminishing as the Government or Sports Authority (s) and Sports bodies had totally ignored them and failed to engage them, especially during the period when the business model in sports was introduced and private players laid major stakes.
As per the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India, sports, entertainment and amusement fall under the State List and State can legislate on matters that relate to sporting activities. Thus the State Sports Policy initiated in 2008 was redrafted in 2019 and among other objectives stated in the policy are – (a) to create and maintain State level facilities with State of the art infrastructure, residential and other facilities (b) to create a pool of qualified manpower for sports management, coaches, athletes, referees, etc, (c) to integrate competitive sports in the education system by linking performance based credit transfer in the academic curriculum (d) to propose a framework for creating employment opportunities for sports persons (e ) to establish scientific sports facilities in order to support and carry out advance level research and development in sports (f) to recognise, encourage, train and support talents in sports (g) to encourage participation of women in sports and games and (h) to facilitate the participation of the ‘Para athletes’ in sports and games.
The policy also enlisted 37 sports disciplines which are to be prioritised on the basis of various criteria. For example, the disciplines which have national presence, the popularity of a sports discipline and the medal winning capabilities may also be taken up for selecting the Sports Discipline. The policy also stated the allocation of quotas for government jobs and admissions in schools, colleges and universities for those who excel in sports. It has earmarked 5% quota for admissions in Higher Secondary Schools, Colleges and Universities respectively. Since 2006, the Government had already allocated 2% of Government jobs to sports persons vide No. PER AR 150/88/152 dt 30/10/2006. For the sake of talents and to make sports highly competitive which in effect will improve sports, the quotas should be opened for all sportspersons in the State irrespective of caste and community. Further, the selection must be just, fair and non-discriminatory. However, in the last two decades, how many appointments in jobs and admissions in schools, colleges and universities have been accorded on sports quota?
Despite the lofty objectives and tall claims, the conditions and performance of sports in the State is pathetic. The local or community-based sports clubs are struggling to meet the basic and necessary requirements to participate in official sports activities. Various State/District sports Associations are cash strapped. Every year they have to run from pillar to post and beg for funds and logistics to be able to organize their annual tournaments. Many athletes, especially in individual sports disciplines like Table Tennis, Badminton, Karate, Judo, Boxing etc are self-supporting. Besides, there are not enough facilities and support system to provide state of the art training to athletes. The lack of major sports facilities is the major reason for the low performance of Meghalaya’s athletes at the Regional and National levels. Even the State Capital has no state-of-the art sports facilities till date. For example, the State’s shuttlers are depending on two major facilities in the Capital, one in U Tirot Sing Indoor Sports or erst while National State Sports Council of Assam (NSCA) stadium at Lachumiere and the other is at the J.N Sports Complex Polo. Unilaterally, the Government decided to dismantle the former and convert it into an Administrative Complex and has named it as U Tirot Sing Bhavan. The work order had already been allotted and all Sports Associations’ offices located inside U Tirot Sing Indoor stadium, including the office of the State Sports Council, had been relocated. The J.N Sports Complex too is out of bounds for sportspersons as the same is being occupied for non-sports purposes like elections and housing for para military forces periodically. Henceforth, where will the State shuttlers play and train themselves?
The recent controversies on the inhumane and unhygienic accommodation provided for the athletes who participated in the 4th Meghalaya Games 2022 represent the larger picture of the deteriorating conditions of sports in the State. Those pictures and videos of unliveable conditions are nothing but a reflection of the rot in the sports management in the State. Here, the Meghalaya State Olympic Association (MSOA) and the Department concerned have many questions to answer and now that the games had concluded they must make public the white paper on the Meghalaya Games 2022. They must account for the 2.23 crores which was sanctioned for the Games and every penny spent should be counted and made public.
The major drawback of the Meghalaya Sports Policy is the proposed jumbo jet committee to be headed by the Chief Minister and fourteen other Ministers, who are in-charge of various departments, as members. It is stated in the policy that for the successful implementation of the policy an inter-ministerial and inter agency structure is needed for policy directions, setting the agenda and mobilizing resources for sports development in the State. On the contrary sports persons and members of Sports Associations or State Olympic Association will be mere invitees and nominated members. It’s a fact that at any given time, more than 90% of the Ministers and their bureaucrats who have to decide on sports related matters have little or no knowledge about sports and that in a State like Meghalaya in which Sports bodies are already plagued by non- sportspersons such a Committee is adding to the problems.
What the Government can do for the best interest of Sports is to legislate a viable law on sports and support for its proper implementation. At the same time there is the need for total revamp of all Sports Associations in the State, including the apex body, the Meghalaya State Olympic Association. The revamping should be primarily based on four principles, (i) that Sport Associations be headed by sportspersons (ii) for sports to survive and grow we have to give way to professionalism (iii) pure talent should be the underlying criterion for selection of sportspersons in any discipline and (iv) system of checks and balances must be in place to ensure accountability and transparency in management and governance of Sports bodies.