How India can build on its success at the Olympics

By christopher heyes

As the flags were lowered on what was a very different Olympic games in Tokyo, both the UK and India teams have returned home pretty happy.

For India, 7 medals – including Gold in the Javelin for Neeraj Chopra – ensured India had its most decorated Olympic Games in history, far exceeding the 2 medals won in Rio in 2016.

So, how can India build on this success? It’s fair to say that even with the impressive 7 medal total, India still punches well below its weight as it ranked 48th in the world at the games behind the likes of Cuba (15 medals), Georgia (8 medals), and Turkey (13 medals).

By contrast, the UK finished 4th in the table with a medal haul of 65 including 22 Gold. This was inline with previous games in Rio and, of course, the hosting of the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

It hasn’t always been this way though. Harp back to Atlanta in 1996, and the UK took just 15 medals finishing 36th in the medal table – the worst in UK history! At that time, the UK team was made up of amateurs, many working full time jobs, training in the evenings and weekends, and using their annual leave to go and compete.

Something had to change, and it was very clear that to become an Olympic superpower, the UK would need to fund sports appropriately at both elite and grass roots levels. Rather than divert funds from national government, John Major, the Prime Minister at the time, created the National Lottery with the aim of supporting good causes including sports. He saw an opportunity to invest in sports, create jobs, and build a new sense of belief for UK in the most elite sports arena, the Olympics.

Since its creation, the National Lottery has invested almost £20bn in sport in the UK and achieved its objective of creating an Olympic superpower with heroes being created from all walks of life, and across a huge range of sports.

The funding has helped create new facilities, fund training programmes, and of course create new heroes for the nation all under the watchful eye of the UK Sport’s independent organisation set up to oversee the turnaround.

So, what does all this have to do with India? Simply put, for India to build on its most successful games, new funding streams will be needed. Like the National Lottery in the UK, India will need to look at new ways to fund sport, stadia, and grass route activities.

Prime Minister Modi’s flagship Khelo India programme is a great start with its budget increased by 40% over the last year. However, its annual budget is only around £100mn (INR 890 crore) and with total spending on sports bringing around £320mn (INR 2827 crore) this is approximately one third of the UK budget, for a much smaller population.

With the pandemic hitting the entire globe’s fiscal policies, it is unlikely that this funding will be available from existing pots and, therefore, new ways to fund sports will be needed. This could of course follow the US model with many corporate sponsors being involved. The Adani Group, Amul, MPL Sports, and JSW Sports all funded India’s 2021 Olympic team, but these funding options are very limited to the Olympic Games window.

UKIBC has long advocated for the regulation of the sports betting industry in India, which is estimated to be worth around £2bn. As a crude estimate with GST at 28% of face value, regulating the industry could provide £500m a year towards grass route sport and funding India’s next Neeraj Chopra.

Success breeds success, but only if there is the opportunity, facilities, coaches, and funding to allow it to!

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