The Sports Authority of India is responsible for promoting and supporting sport across India. They hire foreign coaches, decide the salary of Indian coaches, pay the athletes, build the infrastructure, and plan schemes that will hopefully make India a sporting nation one day. And as Director General of Sports Authority of India, Injeti Srinivas is a key man in many respects.

A graduate in economics and holding a Masters in Business Administration, Srinivas has been closely associated with the department of sports and was directly involved in the preparation of the National Sports Code 2011. He also oversaw the formation of the National Sports Development Fund, through the contributions of Board for Control of Cricket in India and other corporate houses during his stint as the Joint Secretary in Sports Ministry.

In part IV of The Field’s series on how to take Indian sports forward, we speak to Srinivas on the system, the problems within, professionalism and above all, the plan for Indian sport.

Part I: Abhinav Bindra on the need to hire experts rather than making one committee after another
Part II: P Gopichand on why we need coaches and not just stadiums
Part III: Viren Rasquinha on the challenges of getting funding for Indian athletes


A common refrain we hear from Indian athletes is that the system doesn’t support us. Is the perception that – the system is lacking – wrong?

I think it is both “yes” and “no”. With regard to elite sportspersons, some system is put into place, it’s not that we do not have a system. But when it comes to an athlete development pathway and having a system of talent identification and development, I think the system is not yet ready. Which means if somebody on his/her own is able to come to a level and become visible to all of us as a medal prospect. then yes he/she will be taken care of. But if somebody is very young and has extra ordinary potential, the child himself may not know he has potential and we do not have a system to detect that talent. This is the whole issue.

What I think is lacking is, 1. lack of professionalism in federations and 2. Total diversions between sport and education system. These are the fundamental deficiencies. Wherever we have a successful sporting nation, without exception or without doubt there will be a complete integration of sport and education. So what’s really happening in India? Sports and education are not going hand-in-hand in India. Which means, firstly the whole curriculum is so academic and academic burden is high that the child will get no time or even if the child is inclined towards sports the parent wont allow. Secondly, there are very little opportunities to access sport. So what happens is that when you are young and when you can actually develop physical literacy, you are able to do so.

To sum it up, there are issues with our education system, we have to look at sport as something far beyond the glamour quotient of excellence. Because that is a bi-product. If you are only looking at that then it is not going to work because that is an outcome of something else. So that something else also has to be put in place. Federations have a very very important role to play in that. I don’t criticise them but I say, if you say that you are the monopoly authority to regulate the sport, then you have an obligation to regulate it. If you cannot regulate it then give up and say that somebody else has to fill this space. You can’t say that I will regulate it, nobody else will come anywhere near and I will do whatever little I can do and that’s all.

Do we think that the Sports Bill will actually help streamline all this things?

Certainly some sort of regulation is required, and whatever regulation is presently enforced and whatever is being envisaged is only half of the problem. Because, the difference between amateur, professional, and commercial sport is getting blurred, it has become much more complex field. There is something known as sports business. It may be more of business than sport. When the national sports federation is getting more attracted to business, then it is dangerous for the sport. I am not against business of sports, that is fine but if the federation is getting tempted towards business, then it is forgetting its business, which is promoting sports. So this is something we have to be very vary of. Our institutional systems are also not yet equipped to address these issues. I think, regulation is very much need of the hour.

There are good and bad everywhere, in federations and everywhere else. The problem is the good people, whatever they do, they do it as a voluntary service. Today, sport can’t be run as voluntary service. You need paid employees, they have to be paid and held accountable. That is what we are trying to address.

So when you talk about the code, it is not just regulation. Even the new code, which is a work in progress, basically tries to provide assistance to the federations to address this issue of professionalising administration of sports, to address the issue of dispute resolution, to address the issue of athlete welfare, and to address the issue of transparency.

Developing a database of athletes in this country: we don’t have a database. Even the issue of doping that is coming up. I do not agree to some of these assertions being made in some sections media that India is a leading nation. I accept that there must be some doping happening but there is nothing like institutionalised doping in India, like other countries where it has been proven without doubt. But that’s a different issue.

I think regulation is a must and any entity which wants to govern sport will have to comply to certain rules of governance. Lodha Committee and Supreme Court have already made very strong observations. If something is applicable to a strong and well run federation, then why it can’t be applicable to other federations? But obviously, there are differences to Olympic sports.

The only clear thing is that the government should never get involved in technical issues, including selections etc. But we say that there can be no compromise on basic universal procedures and everybody will have to comply to the basic matrix of good governance.

How far are we from implementing the level of professionalism to succeed?

It is a complicated issue. All this doesn’t come out of nothing. There have to be opportunities. In top countries like Australia and US, professionalism is developed because there are good well paying jobs in that sector. If you have those good paying jobs in a particular sector then there is no dearth of professionals. Precisely what the government is trying to do. Suppose we are spending 300-400 crore on sport we feel 30-40 crore can be spent on employing professionals. We are very confident that this can happen without much problem. For example, UK Sport has a system – I don’t know when we will reach that level – majority of chairs of national sports bodies are selected and not elected. So when will we get that maturity, or whether or not we get that maturity I do not know. That is the call of the federations. We need the best people and you may have to have paid professionals. There is no alternative to this.

So what is lacking in the grassroot system?

Yes, a lot more can be done and needs to be done even for elite athletes. But we face a lot of constraints. For example, if I want the best physios who are comparable to what is available in best sporting nations, we don’t have them here. A best in business will cost me about $15,000 or so. Here we want to spend about 30,000 or 40,000 per month. Quality manpower is not readily available and we need to change our mindset to attract best people. So maybe you have to pay them what it takes to get such talent. We have an open mind and we need to understand that recovery and training is as important as quality coaching.

Even when sometimes sportspersons become celebrities, the issue of discipline may also come. I am not pointing at any athlete but I am saying there should be no exception to discipline. If a camp has started on a particular day, then everybody should be there. No exception, however big the athlete is. So this professionalism, attitude is required to become a strong sporting nation.

We can accomplish that only if all stakeholders sit together and make up there mind. You have to first agree that this is the only way forward and therefore we keep everything else aside and start following this path. Whether that is possible or not possible, we will have to look at it. But I think some silent sort of changes are happening and I hope we can gradually move towards a more professional system.

Given the amount of money SAI spends, do you think you get your money’s worth?

No, we don’t get our money’s worth. That is the sad part. I would have loved to have a system where if I have a potential to take 10,000 children from 20 sports, then I would love the 20 federations of these disciplines to use these slots to get the best children into the system. That doesn’t happen. I have been trying very hard to sell this idea to all federations. Federations and SAI need to work together towards creating a development path where the best talent available is picked and nurtured. Similar system, state governments are having. Actually there are so many schemes that are available but either they are not designed properly, or if they are also designed properly then they are unable to implement them properly.

Now national hockey federation is coming up with a national academy and we have told Hockey India is your project to select an India team for 2024 Olympics. So now you are working towards a common goal. Federations don’t have their own infrastructure. But SAI has, state government has, and that should be used well.

There is a criticism that National Institute of Sports coaches are not good enough? Are we addressing that?

I don’t agree. A lot of top people have come to NIS. Recently, Tracy Lamb (US Olympic centre), told me you have a remarkable coaching system in terms of curriculum. We tend to criticise our system which is not always required. Yes they should improve and there is potential. We are producing a good coach, but after the coach is produced, for the next 30 years, what is the development framework we are having for the coach? That is important. Our course is maybe a little outdated but still, relatively, it is a very sound course, that much I can tell you with responsibility.

Development system of a coach, in four-five stages of their career, they have to acquire some additional knowledge, looking at international certification is important. Also having a pathway for community coach, pathway for High Performance Coach is important. A nursery teacher or a college teacher is not one person. There are different skills required. So if you use a SAI coach for grassroot then for developmental squads and then for high performance and expect that he will deliver everywhere, how is that possible?

For 2010, we followed a system oriented approach. Now TOPS has changed that. Your view.

Now, we are becoming little more athlete-centric. But I do not think giving money to the athlete is the best thing to do because the athlete may not know what to do with the money. So we should concentrate on giving more services to the athlete. But that needs a lot of domain knowledge, that needs a lot of networking and how can one SAI conduct the camps, identify the overseas training centres, and purchase the equipment as well? It’s not possible. It is better that federations become very strong in these areas and provide the services.

Is there any way to make federations responsible for results?

That’s what UK Sports does. They just cut out sports without any discussion. But we can’t afford that. So we have a situation where we de-recognise a federation and continue to support players and still call them to our meeting since they regulate the sport.

But the only way forward is to really focus on school and university sports. And the new Khelo India project that is likely to get cabinet approval very shortly, there are very clearly defined verticals on how sports and governance should work. It also provides framework for state governments to move in that direction. If all states in India move with their true potential, nobody can stop this country in becoming a strong sporting nation.

If every state can have an Olympics vision and focus on few disciplines then the whole will be greater than the sum of its part. Once that happens and other things fall in place, like professionals coming on board, other discipline sportspersons also becoming celebrities, then we will see the change.

A lot of people I have talked to in top sporting nations, they say that you have to manufacture medals. That requires huge investment and we will also have to match that kind of investment.

Can we afford spending that much money on sports?

It is difficult to afford that. We have many conflicting demands. So corporate world has to put in their marketing fund. Cricket itself gets 6,000 crore of marketing fund. If 600 crore also goes to other sports it will be a great start.

So do we need to concentrate on few sports?

At grassroot level, more the merrier. When it comes to high performance, you will have to work at 2-3 levels. Target groups of disciplines for Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and a small group for Olympics. Even in Olympics, we need three-pronged approach. One is participation, two progress in games where we are participating and three aim for the podium. We all tend to get carried away. Medals don’t come that easily, it is a process. My dream would be 550 Indians participating in the Olympics. That itself is a great pride, when this big group will go, automatically, they will perform.

Don’t go by medal count. Its not that we were very good in 2012 and bad in 2016. There can be a slip between cup and the lip when it comes to medals.

SAI did a good exercise before Rio, for which we were ridiculed. But I still say it was a good exercise. We worked out certain aspects and said that we can win these many medals. We almost touched 20. But the point is, I am forgetting the names of those very big guys (corporate entities). Somebody said 12, somebody said something else. They all went scot-free and we were ridiculed after producing a detailed report in which we clearly said that based on certain indicators, there is potential. Whether this potential can be translated into medals or not, we will have to see.

We need to understand that government is not the frontrunner in sports. It’s the federations and it is the athlete. We are trying to respond to every demand of every athlete. Beyond that government cannot do anything.

Coming up in Part V: Sports consultant Steven Roush, former chief of sport performance for the United States Olympic Committee, who tells us how the world views India. On Roush’s watch, the U.S. won 102 medals in Athens (2004), 25 in Turin – a record for an American team in a Winter Olympics not held on home turf – then the 110 in Beijing (2008). Since then he has been consulting countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia, Brazil and more.

Part I: Abhinav Bindra on the need to hire experts rather than making one committee after another
Part II: P Gopichand on why we need coaches and not just stadiums
Part III: Viren Rasquinha on the challenges of getting funding for Indian athletes