Time to take sports seriously | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 04, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:25 PM, June 04, 2018

Time to take sports seriously

We should prioritise sports in the national budget and development policy

Bangladesh has always been a sports-loving nation. Sports brings people together irrespective of religion or social and economic background. Our women's football or cricket teams are obvious examples of how sports can promote women's empowerment and gender equality. Bangladesh's women footballers are now competing with foreign women football leagues which was unthinkable even a few years ago. Sports has numerous positive impacts on education, health, trade, tourism, industrialisation, technology and social cohesion. So it goes without saying that sports must be given priority in the national budget.

In 2017 the global sports market generated revenue of around USD 91 billion. All large sporting goods (apparel, shoes, gear, etc.) manufacturers are based in West Europe and North America where sports science and technology are much advanced. Latest sports gear, equipment and accessories are essential for attaining high performance. But sports gear and equipment are usually quite expensive, especially for the kinds of sports we have high potential in such as golf, shooting and archery. Often,  the costs of acquiring and maintaining them are so high that many sports federations cannot even afford them. For example, electronic scoring targets in shooting cost millions of Bangladeshi taka (for example, a 50-metre electronic scoring target costs Tk 15,17,733).

Technology makes sports fairer and safer, but costlier too. This high-value-adding sports technology is almost out of reach for developing countries. Emerging economies like China, Thailand and India are striving to get a share of the market.

In Bangladesh, the study of sports science is now at a nascent stage. A handful of public and private universities offer courses on sports science. BKSP has introduced sports science in limited spheres. Despite the positive economic, social and environmental impact of sports, this is yet to be mainstreamed in national development policies in many Commonwealth countries. In the recently held 9th Commonwealth Sports Ministers' Meeting in Gold Coast, Australia, emphasis was given on sports to be mainstreamed in national development policies, and sports policy to be aligned with national development priorities (and ultimately to the Sustainable Development Goals).

Officially, the Ministry of Youth and Sports is mandated to regulate sports federations, create sports infrastructure, formulate sports policy, and facilitate sports development in the country. The country's sports budget is currently being prepared largely on an ad-hoc basis that cannot advance sports. The ministry receives a lump sum allocation in the budget for participation in sporting events which falls short of the actual requirement of sports federations. Additional money is required to organise a sports event or participate in sports competitions at home and abroad. Given the resource constraint and budgetary discipline, there is limited scope to provide extra money out of the budget. Sometimes, the complicated process of sanctioning additional money can cause delay in actual training or procuring necessary sports equipment for meaningful participation in sports competitions.

The Ministry of Youth and Sports has taken initiatives to streamline the sports budget stressing the importance of training, organising and participating in sports competitions. Traditionally, these are the areas which have been receiving less allocation in the budget.

All the sports federations should be able to formulate their multi-year strategic planning for the future and a framework of how to deploy resources, both human and financial, to achieve that. Federations will be asked to prepare the annual demand based on their operational plan, essential to implement the strategic plan. The ministry will rationalise the demand through consultation with the sports federations before sending the aggregate demand to the finance division. Federations must have set goals to achieve from international competitions if they intend to avail funding from the ministry for this purpose. The ministry will develop a monitoring framework to oversee the expenditure of additional sports budget as a precondition of the finance division. Priority can be given to the sports disciplines where our athletes have high potential of winning medals. Smartly prepared sports budget could be a good business case for enhancing the budget of the ministry, which currently accounts for 0.03 percent of the national budget. Training and participating in competitions and organising sports events are directly related to the performance of the players.

Sports sponsorship is the most significant source of revenue for sports across the world. Currently, the global sports sponsorship market has an estimated value of almost USD 64 billon. In 2017, sports sponsorship crossed USD 1 billion in India. Some corporate houses and sports-loving persons generously sponsor our sports. But there is no credible data on the total market value of sports sponsorship in Bangladesh. Sports sponsorship should also be taken into account when we talk about the national sports budget.

Our current sports policy dates back to 1998. It therefore needs to be upgraded bearing in mind the changing scenario of global sports, national sports needs and, more importantly, the national and global agenda of development. The Ministry of Youth and Sports has already finalised the technical assistance (TA) proposal of Commonwealth Secretariat to upgrade the national sports policy incorporating both sports and non-sports development issues in the policy. 

Hosting international sports events like Olympics, FIFA World Cup or ICC World Cup has always been a privilege of the rich nations as it requires huge investments in sports infrastructure. Bangladesh hosted ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 and 2014 ICC World T-20 when Bangabandhu National Stadium, Sher-e-Bangla National Cricket Stadium and Sylhet Cricket Stadium were upgraded. Modern sports infrastructure fitted with the latest technology and amenities is vital for high performance of the athletes. National Sports Council is responsible for providing sports facilities in Bangladesh. At present, NSC manages eight cricket stadiums, two football stadiums, 64 district stadiums, 21 swimming pools, two indoor stadiums, seven indoor practice stadiums, one hockey stadium, 35 gymnasiums and five women's sports complex. Valuation of these facilities is needed to calculate their maintenance cost. As per standard practice it should be at least 10 percent of the total value of these assets created over the years. We should bear in mind that well-maintained sports infrastructure is an integral part of good sports management in a country.

Getting young people to participate in sports, however, is a challenging task in the wake of the popularity of other forms of entertainment in this age of advanced technology. Social media is more popular among youngsters than outdoor sports activities. Rapid disappearance of open spaces is making the situation worse. In a countrywide survey by Sports Directorate, a total of 5,117 playgrounds were identified under public, private and organisational ownership. We have legal instruments to safeguard the open spaces but their number is declining alarmingly. Proper enforcement of law and public awareness are essential to protect the open spaces. Upon an initiative of the honourable prime minister, the Ministry of Youth and Sports is implementing a project to construct a Sheikh Russel Upazila Mini Stadium at all upazilas of the country. The upazila mini-stadium built on a minimum of three acres of land will facilitate sports activities of youth living in these upazilas. These stadiums will have no galleries, but there will be a number of benches allowing people to easily watch and get inspired to participate in games. 

Since Bangladesh has become eligible for graduation from LDC status, there is no way of keeping sports sidelined. In line with the recommendations of the recent Commonwealth Sports Ministers' Meeting in Australia, sports has to be mainstreamed in the national development plan with utmost priority. In addition to sufficient sports budget, well-maintained sports infrastructure, robust sports policy, adequate sports facility, participation of women in sports, capacity building of National Sports Council, and well-governed sports federations are fundamental to achieve coveted success in prestigious international sports competitions like the Olympics as well as to contribute towards achieving SDGs.

Md Ashadul Islam is Secretary, Ministry of Youth and Sports, Bangladesh.

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