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Non-cricket sports structure in India: What’s working and what’s lacking | More sports News – Times of India

NEW DELHI: When India woke up at 4:30 in the morning last August to watch golfer Aditi Ashok teeing off, eyeing a historic Olympic medal in Tokyo, it seemed sports in India had turned a corner. For a sport considered to be lying in the deepest pocket of the sporting scene in the country, the google search keywords emanating from India that morning were par, birdie, eagle, bogey and so on.
Aditi, ranked No. 200 at that time, missed the podium by a whisker to finish fourth — incredible by all means for an Indian golfer competing at the Olympics.
The Games ended on the brightest note possible — a medal (bronze) in men’s hockey after 41 years and the first medal in athletics since independence, that too a gold, by javelin-thrower Neeraj Chopra.
For the next month, Bollywood and cricket stars were left to warm the couches, while the cameras panned on stars from the Tokyo Olympics — the best ever for India with seven medals (1 Gold, 2 Silver, 4 Bronze) for a 48th place finish on the table, which was again the best in 40 years.
It’s been close to six months since that last day of the Tokyo Olympics on August 8, 2021; and set out to investigate the lost ground Olympic sports in India have regained.
The answer to that needs to take into account the waxing and waning pandemic curve, which has still not allowed sports to return like before Covid-19 struck in full force, around January 2020. It will, thus, be only fair to add that until normalcy returns, any answer to that question will not give the 100 percent clear picture.
Here, we try to analyse the role sports academies play in the country – what they have managed to achieve, where they still lack, the various stake-holders of sports overall in the country and more.
The biggest stakeholders here are, of course, the Sports Ministry and the Sports Authority of India (SAI); and with the central government’s Khelo India programme launched in 2017-18, a new avenue has opened up for sports in India.
For 18 Olympic sports, along with kabaddi and kho-kho, academies meeting a set criteria can apply for Khelo India accreditation. Those who can apply include the academies being run by SAI as well as the national sports federations, among others.
“At present, there are 251 total SAI and non-SAI combined Khelo India-accredited academies,” SAI said in its response when asked by

(Former Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju inaugurating the Khelo India Water Sports Academy in Srinagar – Twitter Photo)
That number is set for an update, as SAI and the sport ministry published a fresh ‘Expression of Interest (EOI) for Accreditation of Academies’ on January 7. However, the accreditation process is an ongoing affair without an end date. Apart from the academies attached to the government, every entity opting to file the EOI must submit a non-refundable fee of Rs 10,000.
But the support via the Khelo India scheme has nothing to do with the state government support some of the prominent academies receive. One of the best examples in that regard is the Surjit Hockey Academy (SHA) based in Jalandhar, Punjab.
Arguably one of the most prominent feeding centres, providing players to the national team, SHA runs a residential facility that provides support including training, lodging and education for those who clear the selection trials.
Kids enter the academy at 12-13 years of age and those who meet the standards (performance in hockey) receive support till they complete graduation. The non-performers are weeded out from time to time.


(File image of kids at SHA posing for a photograph – Image: TOI arrangement)
“The academy is entirely funded by the Punjab government as it comes under the Punjab Sports Department,” said Avtar Singh, a former officer of the Indian Navy who joined SHA as a coach in 2008, when contacted by
SHA never applied for the Khelo India accreditation because it is self-sufficient. However, Khelo India Athletes (KIA), i.e., players who have qualified for Khelo India, in the academy continue to receive the Rs 1,20,000 annual stipend from the central government. It is released in installments through 12 months.
Khelo India allows KIAs to train at their academy of choice and not necessarily at a Khelo India-accredited academy.
However, if you visit the Jude Felix Hockey Academy (JFHA) in Bengaluru, the picture isn’t rosy at all.
The JFHA has been running since 2009 as a non-profit organization, but the academy’s founder and former India captain Jude Felix has faced more hurdles than smooth roads in the last 13 years.
“It is run like a poor academy,” Felix told “We have got our friends and others, some well-wishers who come and do something. That’s how we have been able to run for so long.”
The academy has 120 players under its wings currently.
“All the coaches are honorary. One coach was paid, but that also has stopped now. We have about 5-6 coaches and one centre in Bengaluru,” said Felix.
Strangely, though, JFHA hasn’t pursued the Khelo India route yet to cover its bases. But Felix is disappointed that the state too hasn’t come forward to help JFHA’s cause.
“They (state and national federation) should come and do a report that ‘okay, this academy is doing this much, they need this much of funds, we need to support them’. Nothing has been done,” he said.


(File image of trainees at JFHA during a physical training session – Image courtesy: JFHA website)
Felix cited the example of Singapore, where he did a coaching stint in the recent past.
“In a small country like Singapore, where I coached a club, all the six clubs do their youth development. The federation would come and check how much of youth development they have done, and accordingly they sanction money to run the programme,” said Felix, who was also the coach of India’s junior men’s team as recently as 2018.
“I have experienced all this and that’s why I am talking…People should look at each academy differently and then come forward to help, like through the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programme. Many people promised but nothing happened,” Felix further told
Former India shooter Joydeep Karmakar shares the apathy Felix has come across while running his academy.
At the 2012 London Olympics, the rifle shooter from Kolkata fell agonizingly short of a medal — finishing fourth in the 50m rifle prone event.
His inspiration behind starting an academy is connected to an interesting incident that happened during the Games in London, a decade ago.
“There was a Durga Puja committee in London, and after my match was over, they invited us for felicitation. While I was giving a speech, somebody stood up from the audience, stopped me and said, ‘We are selfish people, the Indian athletes, we do it for ourselves. We earn fame and money and forget about the sport. We are only concerned about ourselves,” recalled Karmakar, in a conversation with
“Though the organisers were embarrassed and wanted to move her out of the hall, I stopped them and let her speak. She had many things to say. That hit me. Whatever she was criticizing me about, I had a lot of takeaways from that vent of anger of that lady. I came back and went on to play the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Asian Games. But this idea (to give back to the sport) stuck from there,” he added.
In 2015, Karmakar decided to end his shooting career as an athlete.
A while later, when he was involved in some activity with SAI, Eastern Region, Karmakar came across an old godown (warehouse) SAI had. It was almost an abandoned place, with just unuseable things being dumped there.
He asked the director there if the place can be spared and converted into a shooting range. After a few meetings, he got the go-ahead.


(File image of Joydeep Karmakar in a selfie with rifle shooters at JKSA – Image courteys: JKSA website)
“There was some dispute later. They were not giving me any contract. Suddenly they used to do something very funny and I used to tell them. They didn’t take money (rent) from me as well for a while. I was requesting them to take money so that I have something in pen and paper. This was the negative part that happened one year later…I shifted from there in 2016 to a school,” Karmakar recalled.
But over the last five years, the Joydeep Karmakar Shooting Academy (JKSA) has managed to self-sustain and branched out into three different centres in Kolkata.
JKSA is now interested in exploring if it qualifies to get support under the Khelo India scheme, after everyone who expressed interest to invest backed out.
“There is a technical problem. We are not an NGO…Yes we did have (talks), but return on investment is not something you should look for in shooting. It’s not a successful business, I would say. It can be a self-sustained good facility for shooters, but for people who want to get involved in shooting for business, it’s not the right place,” Karmakar further told
“I have already told two people, who wanted to invest, the truth; and they backed out. (I told them) that if you are looking to invest Rs 1 crore and you think you will get Rs 2 crore in six months or one year, forget about it. Maybe even in five years you won’t get that sort of profit.”
Karmakar also cited the example of Guns for Glory academy, run by Olympic bronze-medallist shooter Gagan Narang.
“As ‘Guns for Glory’ has it, it’s the best model. Wherever there is a good range and it is not able to sustain itself, a private academy comes and takes charge. They train the shooters and the owners get benefitted from the rent. The best gainers are the shooters,” the former Railways man said.
“Here (in West Bengal) it is lacking. We have a good range in Asansol but nobody would rent it out. We have a range in Kolkata, but it’s in shambles now, almost a cowshed. They are not able to maintain it or give it to coaches or academies who can maintain as well as provide better coaching,” Karmakar added.
Guns for Glory, meanwhile, has also gone on to enter into a tie-up with the state government in Odisha, where Narang has signed an MoU and set up a high performance centre for shooting in the Kalinga Stadium Complex in Bhubaneswar.


(The shooting High Performance Centre in the Kalinga Stadium, Bhubaneswar – TOI Photo)
When support from the state government or corporates is non-existent, getting quality coaches can become a problem, because hiring better coaches means more money in terms of salaries and perks.
“Getting coaches is a big problem,” said Karmakar. “There are not many quality (shooting) coaches existing in the region (West Bengal), so you have to hire coaches from outside…and you can’t get very good coaches if you don’t pay that well. Here, the money factor comes in as well. If I hire somebody from another state, it will cost me double. It’s like a foreign coach concept. So that is a challenge.”
This is where organizations like the Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) have stepped in to provide support.
Led by it’s CEO and former India hockey captain Viren Rasquinha, OGQ has managed to bring together resources that have put their weight behind potential athletes. A case in reference, of late, being the country’s new badminton sensation Lakshya Sen, who has been supported by OGQ since he was 10 years of age.
Sen is 20 now and a World Championships bronze medallist, besides recently winning the India Open title, with a win against world champion Loh Kean Yew in the final.
“Yes, OGQ does work with academies also. Out of the 230 athletes we currently support, 106 are junior athletes in the age group of 11 to 19. They are based in various academies. The examples are Mary Kom academy, Sarita Devi academy, Chhatrasal Stadium, Yogeshwar Dutt academy, several small boxing and wrestling academies in Haryana, Gopichand academy, Prakash Padukone academy,” said Rasquinha while talking to about the work OGQ does
“We support them (athletes) as individuals but at several places (academies) we have given coaches, physios, trainers, nutritionists, etc. Just for example, in the Sarita Devi academy, we have provided 2-3 coaches and a full-time physio. We have also provided equipment, for example a boxing ring, over there. So we do both, individual as well as academy support, but it’s just that we keep quiet about it. And we only pay for the salaries of the staff we provide,” Rasquinha further told

If you are not part of the government structure in any way, providing such support requires a consistent funding base. OGQ has that sorted and that is why it can promise and deliver the kind of support Rasquinha detailed.
Being a not-for-profit organization, QGQ is allowed to raise funds only through donations, which it receives from three different modes: individuals, family foundations and CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).
Approximately 65% of its total donation annually comes from CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and the remaining 35% is almost equal for donations from family foundations and donations from individuals. There are as many as 65 companies supporting OGQ through CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).
Almost 90% of OGQ’s donors are long-term-donors, evolved people and organizations who understand that the journey to create Olympic champions is not an overnight one or a one-year journey. Their support, thus, remains consistent for an entire Olympic cycle (four years).
In contrast to sports centres seeking support from the government or entities like OGQ, there are academies like the one run by the Namdhari sect from its headquarters in village Bhaini Sahib in Punjab, near Ludhiana.
The Namdhari XI hockey club needs no introduction.
India’s 1975 Men’s Hockey World Cup victory inspired the former head of the Namdhari sect, Satguru Partap Singh ji, to put together a hockey team that was named the Namdhari XI, followed by a training centre at the Shri Guru Hari Singh Mahavidyalaya in Siri Jiwan Nagar, Sirsa. The team was taken to dizzying heights by the famous grassroot coach Baldev Singh, before he headed to Shahabad in Haryana to revolutionize India’s women’s hockey.
The centre of excellence at Bhaini Sahib came up in 2004 when the Namdhari Sports Academy (NSA) was registered. It made the Sirsa unit the academy’s nursery, from where promising talent is sent to Bhaini Sahib to further hone their skills. One of the most famous beneficiaries of that programme has been former India hockey captain and Khel Ratna recipient, Sardar Singh.


(Photo courtesy: TOI arrangement)
NSA (Namdhari Sports Academy) receives the major chunk of its funding from Namdhari Seeds Pvt. Ltd., a company founded in 1985, which has been one of the driving forces that enables the Namdhari XI team to train, travel and compete without worrying about anything. It is now one of the largest vegetable seed companies in India. The current head of the Namdhari sect, Satguru Uday Singh ji, is the former Director of Namdhari Seeds.
Over the recent years, NSA has taken seriously to football and investing in it big time, including hiring coaches from Europe.
“We got one coach from Bulgaria, then from Serbia, then two came from England, and now we are in talks with a coach from Ajax in the Netherlands,” Sher Singh, who is part of the team that supervises NSA, told
The NSA centres in Sirsa and Bhaini Sahib trains kids in hockey, tennis, badminton, football, and athletics. A total of 19 coaches across these sports impart training and none of the trainees are charged any fee. It’s free of cost. And lately, NSA has started football training in the village Rampur Phul in Barnala. The ground there, however, belongs to the government but the facilities in Sirsa and Bhaini Sahib are owned by NSA.
“We are also building a football stadium in Bhaini Sahib, which will cost us over Rs 1.5 crore,” said Sher Singh, who went on to add that whenever they approached the Punjab government for help, it didn’t disappoint them.
“Punjab govt has helped us from time to time but we never asked them to run the academy as such,” said Sher Singh. “We once approached them to assist with funds to put up a new astro turf, and they gave us Rs 50 lakh. Even for the new football stadium, we have received a help of Rs 50 lakh from the state government.”


(File image of players at NSA being trained by Serbian coach Marko – Photo courtesy: TOI arrangement)
Another interesting example of academy support was cited by Dronacharya award-winning table tennis coach, Sandeep Gupta, who is credited with shaping TT star Manika Batra’s career, since she came to him as a six-year-old.
Gupta heads the Hansraj Model School Table Tennis Academy in Delhi, while also running two other centres in the national capital under the private partnership (PP) model introduced by the local government.
“We have centres in PitamPura and Shalimarg Bagh. The rent for the hall and electricity is paid by the Delhi government. We can train 50% of the kids privately and 50% from the govt schools in Delhi, who are not charged any fee because we are using the Delhi government’s premises. This model (private partnership) has been the most successful. It was started in 2016,” said Gupta, while talking to
“All the academies you see in the government schools in Delhi are running on the PP (private partnership) model, and top class players are getting good facilities.”
Gupta reckoned corporate funding is almost non-existent at the grassroot level and is received mainly by the elite academies across sports. He felt the Khelo India accreditation for academies can bridge that gap.
“Corporate funding to academies are for a select few academies only….At the grassroot level, I can’t recall any. But what the central government has started through Khelo India is very good,” said Gupta.


(File image of coach Sandeep Gupta at the Hansraj Model School TT Academy – Photo courtesy: TOI arrangement)
The celebrated coach hinted that to continue finding players who can excel at the top level, a lot more needs to be done at the grassroot level.
“The government is doing well, no doubt about it. But we need to do a lot more to go for medals in the Olympics.”
To put his point across, he mentioned the achievement of one of his players who is still waiting for support.
“One of my players, Dhaani Jain, has won five consecutive under-11 tournaments at the international level but there is no sponsorship or funding that has come through for her yet,” Gupta further told
To sum up, the machinery has been set in motion, but unless it is continuously oiled and improved and support is focused on the grassroot level, going up, consistent stellar performances at the Olympic stage will remain a dream needing a fair bit of chasing.

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