Neelam Kapur, an Indian Information Service officer of the 1982 batch, was appointed as Director General of the Sports Authority of India (SAI) in February, succeeding Injeti Srinivas, who was doubling up as Secretary (Sports). She was head of media operations for the 2010 Commonwealth Games, held in New Delhi, during her stint as Principal Director General in the Press Information Bureau. She spoke to Outlook on a variety of issues.
Excerpts from an interview:
What has been the role of SAI in preparations for the 2018 Asian Games in actual terms?
SAI implements two broad schemes of the government that are aimed at making sure that we make preparation both long term and immediate for international competitions. The Asian Games is one such competition, but our teams participate in a number of other competitions as well. The first is the Annual Calendar of Training and Competition, commonly known as the ACTC, where an annual plan is submitted by the various [national sports] federations to the government. SAI examines these plans. We try to ensure that while the senior teams in various disciplines are given proper exposure, there’s also a well-thought out road map for development of junior talent. And the funds are divided in a way that both the senior and junior teams get enough exposure, the right kind of coaching, facilities, including the equipment, to prepare for improving their performance to the world standards. We are also looking at a proposal of extending this over a period of two or three years, for instance, because to do it every year, perhaps, the time is short for implementation.
So far Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) is concerned, we have about 190 athletes as part of this. We do need to make it more focussed and the group needs to be smaller, and we are ready to give them what they need to improve their performance. This scheme is funded from the National Sports Development Fund, which is a joint fund of government CSR contribution from the corporate sector. In addition to all that, we have 12 regional SAI centres, where many of the national coaching camps are held.
SAI doesn’t have a say in selection of athletes. Why can’t it have a little say because it makes a large contribution [to athletes’ preparation]?
It is as per the Olympic Charter. We do keep an eye on the selection process, and if we find any deviation we do point that out to the federations. But ultimately it’s a role that the federations have to do; we don’t have a formal role in this as per the Olympic Charter.
SAI released [some of the] funds for athletes very close to the Asian Games. Does that make effective utilisation of funds?
The TOPS funds are released every week, and we have a meeting every week for the TOPS athletes. We give the funds as per the proposals received from them.
I’ve been hearing for years that SAI would undergo structural changes. How far away are the changes?
Quite a few things have happened. Mr [Injeti] Srinivas [former Sports Secretary and SAI Director General] had done a lot of work. He had laid the foundation of many, many things that we have taken on. I joined this organisation in February. We have cleared the cadre restructuring of SAI officers whereby we are looking at developing their core capabilities in sports management. We are trying to outsource those jobs where we don’t need to have permanent government employees, so that we get the best possible services and there’s greater efficiency in the organisation. The SAI governing body at its last meeting cleared the cadre restructuring and now we are in the process of implementing that. The second major change that we have done is that we have set up a TOPS secretariat and it’s now headed by a CEO. We are also getting other professionals for managing the TOPS scheme. The third important aspect we are looking at is the Khelo India scheme, which has a variety of activities that SAI has to implement. We are setting up a special cell within SAI to handle the activities under this scheme. We hope to get the professionals in and the best talent available in the market. We are paying competitive salaries.
The other thing that is in planning stage is: how do we manage our facilities and procurement? We have the stadia that we have to run and run them in a very professional way. So, we are looking at possibilities of public-private partnerships for managing our stadia. We are looking at streamlining our procurement processes as well. This is something that we are in the process of putting together.
There have been several proposals/reports envisaging how to generate funds by renting out the stadia space. For example, there was a Roongta Committee report in the early 1990s.
I think things have moved on from there. Today, even the whole concept of sports has changed. People coming into the stadia for a healthy lifestyle is our objective. Our objective is not to just rent out space to banks or offices. We would want the stadia to be used much more actively, in a much more holistic and wholesome manner by people and be used for sports activities. So, if elite athletes are coming and training, that is one part of the use of the stadia. But why should the general public not be coming in for a variety of activities that are linked to sports, healthy lifestyle, and young people being there. If you look at the legacy of such structure created the world over...for instance, if you look at the Sports Hub in Singapore, it has the best of sports facilities, all the top athletes train there, yet there is a huge participation of the communities, of the public, and at the same time it generates revenue from a variety of activities, not by just giving out office space. That will be only one part. Today, we have many more options. So, we are looking at what the best possible options are. Every stadium lends itself to a different kind of use; we can’t have one kind of approach for every stadium, depending on the location, the city, the population around it, the accessibility, etc. We are trying to see how we can develop these kinds of public private partnership with the objective of greater use by people. It’s like a re-dedication of the facility for better and more public use.
When this Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi came up [for the 1982 Asian Games] the same thing was talked about then also, that people living around it should have access to the stadium. That has not really happened in all these years.
Yes, it has not happened. Hopefully, it will happen now.
You just now said that banks are probably ruled out...
I am not ruling it out; I am saying that’s maybe one very simple option. Today, there are many options, many such examples. We have given space to banks etc., but we can use the space in a much more imaginative manner. That’s what I’m saying.
Maybe that’s why the Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium [in New Delhi] has been given to the Ministry of Home Affairs offices.
Well, that was part of a decision taken earlier. That was one option. Today, we have many more options that we can look at.
Do you think the SAI, the sports ministry and all the national sports federations are on the same page vis-à-vis the talent that has emerged from Khelo India Games and kids that have been selected for training etc.?
There is a federation that has raised questions.
There could be individual cases where, maybe, issues are raised, but the procedure and process that we have adopted, the federations are on board from day one and they have participated in all our processes; they are part of our committees. There is a high powered committee for talent identification which is chaired by me, and it has representatives of the federations and very senior sportspersons as well. The decisions are ratified in the high powered committee. It’s a very open and transparent process and we have followed all the norms. There could be a case here and there; there could be some issue, which we always discuss and sort out.