India’s sports budget: Some states more equal than others?
PM Narendra Modi says this year’s Central sports budget is three times higher than nine years ago, but what does the increase actually look like?
It’s not unusual practice to resort to political rhetoric on occasions celebrating a sporting achievement. Hence, it was not surprising when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Thursday harped on how the Union government began prioritising sport in 2014, and on India's Olympic dreams for the 2036 edition.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the National Games in Panaji, Goa, the PM Modi said: ‘’The earlier government used to be very modest (about sport). People used to say sports is just a game. Why do we need to spend on it? Our government changed this thinking. We increased the budget. This year’s central sports budget is three times higher than nine years ago.’’
The mood is certainly upbeat in the Indian sporting community at the moment. The Asian Games in Hangzhou has seen the nation notch up a record haul of 107 medals, while their para athletes have also shattered the previous best in the Asian Para Games. If the momentum had been building since an unprecedented seven-medal haul at the Tokyo Olympics (and 19 at the Paralympics), there is now good enough reason to believe that the haul may reach double figures in Paris, in less than a year.
How much of an increase has the budget actually seen? In the current fiscal year, the Modi government has allocated an all-time high of Rs 3397.32 crore to the ministry of youth affairs and sports, an increase of 11 per cent over the previous year’s budget of Rs 3062.30 crore.
Breaking it down, the bulk of the funds will go to the National Sports Federations (NSF), whose allocations have gone up from Rs 280 crore each to Rs 325 crore, while the budget for the umbrella body Sports Authority of India (SAI) has increased from Rs 749.43 crore to Rs 785.5 crore — what with an Olympic year round the corner.
For all the talk of an all-time high budget, a closer study of the figures over the last two decades show that Central spending on sport has actually seen a compounded annual average increase of a steady, inflation-beating nine to 18 per cent spread over four governments of two different political dispensations. This, of course, excludes the one-time expenditure on the 2010 Commonwealth Games.
The single biggest share of the current budget has been allocated to the Khelo India Youth Games, a prestige project of the current government launched in 2018. The 2023-24 allocation sees a rise from Rs 600 crore to Rs 1,045 crore — a pan-India project to host the annual KIYG, Khelo India University Games, and to spend on grassroots initiatives to build a sporting culture among the youth and grow future champions.
So far, so good. However, a breakdown of the state-wise allocation of the Khelo India budget throws up some interesting data. Gujarat, which did not yield a single Asian Games medal winner, received the highest grant of Rs 608.37 crore, followed by Uttar Pradesh — which produced 21 medals — at Rs 503.02 crore. The funding figures were shared by the Union ministry of youth affairs and sports in the Lok Sabha in reply to a query in August.
The three states which produced the bulk of the medal winners in Hangzhou — Haryana, Punjab and Maharashtra — received Rs 88.89 crore, Rs 93.71 crore and Rs 110.8 crore, respectively. Rajasthan and Karnataka are the only two non-BJP ruled states to have received over Rs 100 crore under Khelo India, as per the list. All the other non-BJP states received two-digit allocations.
It may be argued that with several of the medal contenders falling under the Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) and being beneficiaries of several corporate sponsorships, they are not exactly dependent on the largesse of the Khelo India grants. However, the issue of so-called discrimination among states in funding has already raised enough questions on social media.
Are some states, then, more equal than others?