Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Cover Story

Batting for Sports Infra

Sports infrastructure continues to be a neglected area of development across the country and is limited to a few pockets. A view of the existing facilities and the gaps that need to be addressed. By SHRIKANT RAO in Mumbai

It’s difficult not to be moved when a stadium literally packed to the rafters – not to mention hundreds of millions of fans watching television sets across the country – lets out its final,
seemingly unending, goodbye roar for a man known as a God of Cricket. Since that historic 200th test match at Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium, Sachin Tendulkar – a public persona but a private man – has wiped his tears, absorbed accolades in a dignified manner which only he can, also acquired a Bharat Ratna, and moved on to the portals of Parliament as an ambassador for Indian sports. All this with a view to return in small measure to the larger arena of Sports what the gentleman’s game once gave him. If in an early avatar he was constructing a great cricketing innings, the national icon has been seeking to deliver his vision for the construction and betterment of a bigger edifice called national sports. The maestro is now looking to bat not just for cricket but for the upliftment of sports infrastructure in the country.

Towards this end he had presented a document in the form of a letter – a two page summary along with a 25 slides presentation – to former Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal and Ajay Maken, a former Sports Minister which contained his suggestions to integrate sports with the education system. Tendulkar outlined four main points in his roadmap: to develop sports at the grassroots level, nurturing of young talent, promotion of sports both at the college and university level, emphasis on physical activities as part of the school curriculum, and a revamp of sports infrastructure. His proposal derives largely from a plan prepared by the Sports Authority of India (SAI) to identify growing talent at the age of 13-15 itself and to provide them with the best of facilities and adequate training to help enable them reach the peak performance level for the 2020 Olympics.

The government’s approach though has been found to be wanting and rich in irony – at one level it has given Cricket’s Superstar the nation’s biggest accolade; but at another, ignored his valuable counsel.
The cricket legend’s suggestions – not to mention his desire to work closely with the government on the overhaul of sports infrastructure – have not made any headway in terms of action beyond assurances. At the moment it appears to have been dumped in the bureaucratic freezer thanks to the traditional apathy towards sports.

Admittedly therefore, while the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi has led to creation of sports venues there has not been much infrastructure added subsequently.

The encouraging performance by our athletes at the 2010 London Olympic Games has led to announcements and assurances of on the ground improvement but except for pockets of development in states like Punjab, which has a very proactive sports policy, not much is seen.

And a Punjab-like aggressive approach to sports development is what a  PT Usha, a Milkha Singh, a Prakash Padukone, a  Sania Mirza or a Dhanraj Pillay or a  Mary Kom would wish for.

But the powers that  be hardly care.    





A lot of it stems from lack of funds and policy framework support from the government. Sports facilities across the country are inadequate and fail to make it to international grade. A recent survey has shown that only half of the primary schools in India have playing fields and almost every city is deficient in proper courts and stadiums. For a country which claims hockey as its national sport there is not much added by way of astro turf. Former India Cricket captain, Kapil Dev, was recently led to lament, “Even a small country like Holland has over 200
astro turfs but in India we have just 15.”  The government occasionally wakes up from its somnambulistic stance to announce decisions to construct synthetic turfs for football, hockey and athletics and multi-purpose indoor halls under the Urban Sports Infrastructure Scheme. As part of this kneejerk reaction the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports in the middle of last year announced funds for a number of projects across the country. The states  in the scheme included Goa, Kerala, J&K, Uttarakhand and Mizoram but the progress of the projects remains a question mark. Very often the grouse is that the funds go largely unutilised.  


If facilities are largely inadequate across the country some of those that exist are going to seed due to improper maintenance and utilisation. In Ludhiana, for instance, civic authorities have invited proposals from industrialists, private sports clubs and NGOs for improvements and enrichment of areas dedicated to sports at the city’s Satluj Gymkhana Club – these included the gymnasium, swimming pool, badminton hall and skating rink – which were found encroached by criminals and stray dogs. Work on Phase 1 of the indoor sports complex, slated for completion this year, has been delayed and the budget has doubled. 


Chetan Raikar, Managing Director, Structwel Designers and Consultants Pvt Ltd, offers an explanation for the malaise, “Sports infrastructure has never been an area of priority when it comes to development in India thanks
to public indifference. The result is no one at the helm shows accountability.”  Raikar should know. His firm has been involved in a swimming pool project in Mumbai, which has refused to make any headway for over six years after his services were delivered thanks to the apathy of civic officials.




It is easy to see that if there are any additions or improvements it is largely focused on development of cricket stadia. Much of the stadium structural work is being done by companies like L&T, Shapoorji Pallonji, Era and Unity Infra and Octamec Engineering Limited. EPC giant L&T has to its credit the re-construction of the famed Kensington Oval in Barbados, a 25,000 seat capacity stadium for Al-Rayyan Club at Umm-Al-Afaai, a 20,000 seat stadium for Al Ittehad Club at Gharaffa in Doha, Qatar, and a 25,000 capacity football cum athletics stadium at Amara, Iraq.


Meanwhile firms like Jaypee Sports International Ltd, a subsidiary of Jaiprakash Associates Ltd, have developed India’s premier motorsports destination – Buddh International Circuit – at Greater Noida which hosted the country’s first F1 Grand Prix in 2011 to a full house. Jaypee is now developing a sports city spread over 2,500 acres which will include a Cricket stadium, with a seating capacity of 40,000 people, a hockey arena, a sports training academy and infrastructure for other sports. Jaypee Sports City which will be the country’s first fully integrated megacity built around a sporting lifestyle has been designed by world-renowned architects and planners, WATG.


The allure of day and night cricket has also led to a growing emphasis on sports lighting. The important players offering lighting solutions for sports infrastructure are GE Lighting, Philips, and Bajaj. While Philips was responsible for the revamping of lighting at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata – the second largest in the world – the Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata for an IPL match, GE Lighting lit up proceedings at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium during the Commonwealth Games. 


Then there are the sports solutions providers like Great Sports Infra, a company which is a leader in the area of sports flooring, artificial grass and landscaping and synthetic athletic tracks, and synthetic acrylic courts across the SAARC region. The Hyderabad based firm has installed a dozen FIFA standard soccer fields in India and its turf has found extensive application in homes, corporate, academies, terraces, playgrounds and schools. New Delhi-based H&S Associates too has been engaged in designing and landscaping surfaces for tennis, basketball, badminton, cricket pitches, skating rinks and athletic tracks.



It is obvious however that the emphasis thus far has been on bolstering cricket infrastructure across the country leading to infrastructure related to other sports disciplines being either ignored or underdeveloped. What is available in terms of facilities are clearly not enough.


Arvind Mahajan, Partner and National Head, KPMG, hits the nail on the head when he declares, “IPL has helped to create a lot of cricket infrastructure, because of the revenue streams that are happening.  Much more needs to be done to substantiate our other sports infrastructure.” 


It is easy to see that though the opportunities for development of sports infrastructure are enormous for all the construction players progress is hampered by want of funds. According to the FICCI Yes Bank Report on Development and Management of Sports Infrastructure-Future Roadmap, development of sports infrastructure nationally needs huge investments backed by policy support, local buy-in and technical knowledge. It suggests that Public Private Partnerships (PPP) is a one point solution, where the private sector’s inputs towards technical expertise and ability to draw large investments coupled with policy support from the government will act as a key driver. 


Incidentally Yes Bank has been involved in important landmark transactions with various sporting associations and caters to the financial needs of iconic sports infrastructure in the country. More recently it has been the lead debt syndicator for the Buddh International F1 Circuit.


“The government should look at involving private sector more in sports infrastructure, not just from an EPC perspective, but potentially from a PPP perspective” recommends Mahajan. “We need hard taskmasters,  people who are connected to sports, are accountable and at the helm of organisations that act for the development of sports infrastructure,” adds  Structwel’s Raikar.


But where is the political will? The Great Master too would have the same poser from his seat in Parliament.


The cricket pitch was fine, but it’s not quite easy batting for sports infra. 


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