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Clipped Wings: National Sports University in doldrums

A file picture of the National Sports University site.

The functionaries of the National Sports University in Manipur is hindering the development of a sports ecosystem in the country

By Yambem Laba

The National Sports University was created and allocated to Manipur by the Centre to recognise the state’s contribution in bringing sporting laurels to the nation. It was birthed in 2014 with the Indian Parliament passing a bill to the same effect. But from the first day itself, the NSU has faced challenges.

The Centre had no problem in acquiring land for the university as the people of Senjam Chirang and Koutruk in Imphal West district gifted 350 acres for the construction of the NSU complex. It saved the exchequer crores of rupees as the land was acquired without having to pay a paisa. But sections of the authorities and their vested interests skimmed off money from the project to fill personal coffers.

The first case was registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation in 2019 against a former chairman-cum-managing director of Hindustan Steelworks Construction Limited, a Government of India enterprise that was tasked with building the complex. The said person was pulled up for having taken a bribe of Rs one crore from a private company for awarding a contract in 2015.

The second scandal was unearthed when Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Imphal to lay the foundation stone of the NSU in 2019. A total of Rs Five crore was siphoned off for levelling a hillock and preparing a ground for the PM’s address. What the authorities did was show an existing ground as the one that was prepared by them for the purpose of the PM’s visit. At that time, Major Y Angamba Singh, then deputy project director of the NSU, turned whistleblower. He asked authorities at the Union ministry of youth affairs and sports to name the agency which was entrusted with the job of levelling the hillock.

The matter was brushed under the carpet but not for long as a civil society organisation called the Kangleipak Kanba Lup (KKL) of Manipur pointed out the scam through a press conference and wrote to the PM. Another case concerning the construction of the NSU complex was registered by the CBI. This was informed by the youth affairs and sports department at the Centre to the KKL in writing.

In the meantime, K Radhakumar, a retired officer of the Indian Administrative Service and then registrar of the NSU, resigned after the then dean had bypassed him to recruit faculty members in violation of University Grants Commission norms and in matters related to service and local purchases without tenders. Angamba Singh’s term as the deputy project director was also not extended.

But scams apart, the NSU is functioning like a college of physical education now, the likes of which exist in plenty across the country. The very purpose of establishing the NSU was to provide a starting block to give Indian sports a quantum leap forward like the sports ecosystems of China, Russia, Australia or the United States.

That would entail opening disciplines like sports science, sports management, sports physiology, sports psychology, sports nutrition, sports medicine and the like, none of which exists at present. There was no executive council at the NSU prior to pointing out that it didn’t exist. It was formed soon after but only one meeting has been held so far. There has been no regular meeting of the academic council either. A pro-vice-chancellor or a person with adequate knowledge of sports sciences has not been appointed till date. The current vice-chancellor’s only qualification seems to be the fact that he was an IAS officer belonging to the Manipur cadre.

Speaking to this writer, Jatinkumar H Soni, founding vice-chancellor of Gujarat Sports University, said that it took only two years for the GSU to come up after he had presented the concept paper to PM Modi. According to him, there is an intense need for a sports ecosystem to develop in the country, which would automatically churn out world class sportspersons. The Olympic medallists India has produced till date are results of individual efforts aided by their respective coaches.

Soni said that China, Russia, the US and Australia have been able to produce countless Olympic medallists because of the sports ecosystems in those countries.

Gushan Lal Khanna, a top Indian sports scientist and currently pro-vice-chancellor of the Sports University in Haryana, said that the NSU should be put on par with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi or the Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management. With different sports universities being set up across the country, the NSU should become the nodal centre of the activities and progress of other sports universities.

A member of the Prime Minister’s Olympic Task Force with vast international exposure from Japan and Malaysia to South Africa, Khanna said that there is an immediate need to pool in resources in sports sciences from across the globe. When the NSU was established, a memorandum of understanding was signed with Melbourne Sports University in Australia but that has not been put into effect till date in terms of providing coaches and sharing scientific knowledge.

Soni also said that while it is alright for the state to reward sportspersons with suitable jobs, sports persons themselves should share their experiences by undergoing refresher courses at the NSU. Manipur Olympic Association had earlier recommended to the PM that Khanna be appointed pro-vice-chancellor of the NSU. The Prime Minister’s Office had in turn forwarded the recommendation to the Union sports ministry, but no action has reportedly been taken nor an acknowledgement returned to the PMO till date. Much was expected since the change of guard at the Union sports ministry following the appointment of Anurag Thakur as minister, but he hasn’t visited the NSU even once to take stock of things.

The stage has already been set for Indian sports to take off, but the aircraft has been warming up for too long on the runway in the absence of a signal from the control tower. And if that signal does not come soon, the engine may run out of fuel and die a natural death.

(The writer is the Imphal-based Special Representative of The Statesman. This article was first published on The Statesman, October 4, 2021)

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