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India's sports policies : Between Ideas and Implementation

Sport has been practiced since time immemorial in India and elsewhere. Ancient Greece and Rome organized many sporting events, as an integral part of their culture. Indian sporting culture too can be dated back to several centuries. From being a favorite past time to multi-billion-dollar industry, sporting activities and events have come a long way. Many governments across the world are spending stupendous amounts of money in sport development, not just to encourage sport, but also to encourage tourism, local businesses, area development, among many others. Japan is set to lose 6 billion dollars due to postponement of Tokyo Olympics 2020 [1–2], is an indicant of the economy which thrives on sports.

Indian sporting ecosystem is generally perceived to be 'under development' due to various factors involved. One of the important factor is the 'medals tally' in international sporting events. Other factors include the priority given to the development of sports as a whole (including budget, infrastructure development, manpower development and so on). Though the establishment of Sports Authority of India in 1984 improved the overall participation and perception of sports and sports career, there is still scope for a great deal of improvement in the overall approach and handling of professional and non-professional sports in India. Another important aspect which needs immediate attention is on the general outlook on sports and physical activity. NFHS data has highlighted an alarming trend of lack of sport and physical activity among children [3], which can lead to serious health issues in the future. There is a need to view the sporting eco system holistically, and encompassing of issues such as access, inclusion, quality, infrastructure, support, finance, education, technology, nutrition, development and intra & inter department collaboration. Sport policy of a nation and State needs to address these issues not just to improve the medals tally, but to improve the overall access and participation in sports.

Sports policy in India

Sports is a State subject in seventh schedule of the Indian constitution. Development and promotion of sports is primarily the responsibility of the State governments. Central government aids State governments in some of the activities. India got its fist sports policy in 1984. It was the first governmental action to mainstream sports to develop a conducive environment for its promotion and expansion [4]. The subsequent sports policy was developed and adopted in 2001 [5]. The focus of 2001 policy was primarily on finding and nurturing sports talent, and achieving excellence in national and international level. Though the objectives were novel, the systematic study of the efficacy of the policy is yet to be undertaken. Programs such as Khelo India has improved sports participation at the several levels, but it is yet to reach every nook and corner of the country. Looking at the fast-paced development in the sporting arena, the policy is certainly due for review and revision. At the State level, many States in India have developed state specific sport policies. Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Meghalaya and Haryana have developed their own State sports policies. The policies are not binding in nature and the implementation efficacy is dependent on the States.

Development of Sports policy in Karnataka

The first sports policy (draft) of Karnataka was framed in 2015[6]. This document was legislative in nature. The policy aimed at developing of multi-tier structure (taluk, district, state) for sports and management of the same. However, due to various factors, this policy was not finalized and implemented. In 2016, Karnataka Knowledge Commission came up with recommendations report on Karnataka Sports policy. The report focused on pyramid structure intervention to develop sports in Karnataka [7].

Fig 1- Pyramid Structure for sports development.

This model aimed at improving access, provide basic infrastructure, institutional support, rewards for best performers, and also aimed creating a platform for sports icons to give back to the society. The recommendations also argued for the implementation of sports governance, developing sports knowledge and support sports commerce and industry. The multi-level structure in the four pillars viz. sports law, sports support, sports knowledge and sports commerce provided the detailed plan for each pillar.

In the final policy document of 2018, following four pillars were included; viz. Governance and institutions, eco-system, hard infrastructure and soft infrastructure [8].

Fig 2- Vision of sports policy. Source: Karnataka Sports policy, 2018

Karnataka State sports policy definitely tries provide a holistic view on the overall structure and sport ecosystem development. However, the implementation of the same to the letter and spirit has not been possible due to multiple issues. The governance structures envisioned are yet to be implemented, hard infrastructure support from the State government was able to develop only few stadiums, soft infrastructure support from the State level has been meagre. The support from central government (SAI structure) has been the only credible successful soft infrastructure. Sports eco-system pillar is yet to be developed fully to achieve envisioned outcomes.

Sports Policy for Sports Development

It is established that a sports policy gives a direction and a mission for the development of sports. However, the physical targets such as 'winning xx medals in yyy competition' in the 'vision' of the document dilutes the overall objective of the document. An Education policy is not developed with a vision 'person studying/teaching in xx university to win YYY Prize'. The objective is much broader and deeper connecting the philosophy of education. There is a need to follow a similar approach in sports policy where the overall objective holds prominence than the physical targets.

Scope and open-endedness

Scientifically and medically, the classification of sports is done based on the exercises involved in terms of the changes in muscle length, joint movements, oxygen intake, heart rate, blood pressure and so on. A Static exercise involves in the creation of large intramuscular force with little or less muscle and joint movement. Whereas, a dynamic exercise more movement and changes in muscle length and joint movement which develops small amount of intramuscular force. Any activity or sport involves both these exercises/activities and the severity of this is used for the medical classification of sports [9]. However, in general layperson terms, sports classification can be done in myriad ways. For example: In summer Olympics games, there are more than 35 different categories of sporting events. Sports classification in India is broadly done based on the type of sport, and region. We have Olympics sports, non-Olympic sports, traditional and regional sports, and winter sports. Off late, lifestyle sports [10] is emerging as a new classification altogether which may or may not include some of the sports from above mentioned category. Some examples include parkour, scuba diving and some traditional indigenous sports. Most of the centrally sponsored schemes focus on supporting Olympic sports, and there is a need to support other sports at similar levels and intensity. The policy needs to accommodate newer developments in sports and can allow development of independent structures for the same.

Sports Policies need to be temporal in nature, reviewed and revised from time to time. Evaluation of the same needs to be carefully performed to aid the review process when the policy is due for revision. The governmental systems and non-governmental support to implement the policy needs to be discernible. There is also a need to encourage sporting habit at a professional and non-professional level.

Concluding Remarks

Building a strong sporting eco-system needs concerted efforts from all levels of government and society. Advocacy and advertising on the eco-system too is an important aspect for its success. Sports and physical activity have direct bearing on health, and in turn on the economy. The decentralized approach in sports need to be strengthened to truly develop sports in India.


1. Statista Research, Japan: estimated economical damage of Tokyo Olympics by scenario 2021. Statista, (2021). (accessed May 19, 2021).

2. Olympics delay to cost Japan $6bn in economic losses. Nikkei Asia, (2020). (accessed May 19, 2021).

3. S. Suri, While health services improve, NFHS-5 state level reports indicate #ZeroHunger a far away goal for India. ORF, (2020). (accessed May 20, 2021).

4. Awadhesh Kumar Shirotriya, Conceptual Framework for Redesigning the Sports Policy of India. International Research Journal of Physical Education, Health Education, and Sports Sciences., (2019).

5. Govt. of India, National Sports Policy 2001. (2001).

6. Govt of Karnataka, Sports Policy (draft) Karnataka- 2015. (n.d.). (accessed May 20, 2021).

7. Karnataka Knowledge Commission, Karnataka State Sports Policy Recommendation. (2016). (accessed May 20, 2021).

8. Govt of Karnataka, Karnataka Sports Policy 2018. (2018). (accessed May 20, 2021).

9. J. H. Mitchell, W. L. Haskell, & P. B. Raven, Classification of sports. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, 24 (1994) 864–866.

10. B. Houlihan & D. Malcolm, eds., Sport and society: a student introduction, 3rd edition (Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016).

About the author

Vijeth Acharya is a policy professional from Bengaluru. He has keen interest in policy research and analysis in the areas of sports policy, education policy and technology policies.

About Simply Sport

Simply Sport is a sports policy research & development organization based out of India. Simply Sport’s vision is to promote sports as an effective tool for the development of the nation. It focuses on policy research, grassroot development and use of technology in sports. To subscribe to Simply Sport Newsletters, Research & Articles, please write to You can follow Simply Sport on the Twitter handle @_SimplySport for more sports related content.

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