[Editorial] 36th National Games: Pros and Cons

About the Games:

  • The National Games is being held after a gap of 7 years. This is the 36th edition of the pan-India Olympic-style sporting event that was first organized in 1924.
  • It was originally launched as the Indian Olympic Games in Lahore. Post-independence, it was renamed as the National Games.
  • The last edition was held in Kerala in 2015. Before that, Jharkhand hosted the games in 2011.
  • The current edition is being hosted by Gujarat with the participation of over 7,000 athletes from the 36 states and UTs. The events are being held across 6 cities in the state: Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Vadodara, Surat, Bhavnagar and Rajkot.
  • The 36th edition of the games will feature 36 sporting events- the highest among all the editions till now. These include the conventional sports like athletics, football, tennis, field hockey and volleyball, as well as traditional sports like kho kho, kabaddi and yogasana.
  • The state had spent Rs 2,000 crore in refurbishing the venues and necessary infrastructure. The opening ceremony was held at the Narendra Modi Stadium- the biggest cricket venue- in Ahmedabad.
  • The state has been building momentum around the event:
    • Saavaj, the Asiatic Lion, was launched as the games’ mascot.
    • Organization of pre-games activation programs in schools and colleges
    • Organization of sports carnivals, etc.
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What are the pros?

  • The state used its existing infrastructure instead of constructing new facilities which have a tendency to turn into white elephants.
    • Conversion of international standard expo centres into indoor sports facilities
    • Use of hotels to accommodate the athletes instead of building Games Village
  • This has economically aided the hotel industry of the state.
  • During the inauguration, the Prime Minister highlighted the importance of sports in projecting the country’s soft power for overall development.

What are the cons?

  • Critics have taken note of the event’s timing- hurriedly put-together in the run up to the state Assembly elections.
  • The unideal timing of the event has meant that athletes have been summoned in the middle of training sessions for a number of world championships- like shooting and table tennis. There are even Olympic quotas in question.
  • There is also the lack of a university structure of competition and proper open national competitions in individual sports adding to the mix.

What is the way ahead?                         

  • Even in its 98th year, the Games stays relevant by providing an opportunity for younger athletes to experience such large-scale multi-discipline sports events and to compete with world-class athletes.
  • Given the fact that other states took several years to prepare to host the Games and the Goa edition was cancelled after several postponements, Gujarat’s putting the event together is a significant feat.
  • In 2017, Odisha set a new benchmark by organizing the Asian Athletics Championship in just 3 months. Now Gujarat has equalled this feat by organizing the National Games in a similar time frame.
  • The National Games are set to make a grand statement on Gujarat’s ability to host such mega sports events. Notably, Gujarat is looking to organize the Olympics in the future. Towards this end, it has been setting up facilities like the Swarnim Gujarat Sports University (Vadodara), encouraging application of technology in sports and promoting skill development via sports.
  • When it comes to the infrastructure created during the previous games, like those at Balewadi in Pune and Gachibowli in Hyderabad, they have struggled to remain useful. It is hoped that the Ahmedabad infrastructure would do better.
  • While the 36th Games has seen a magnanimous inflow of funds which would boost domestic sports, the organizers are now responsible in ensuring sporting returns on this investment.
  • There is no doubt about India’s capacity to organize such grand spectacles. However, organizing the event annually requires seriousness and commitment. One successful National Games is insufficient in the absence of sustained pursuit of sporting excellence.

Conclusion:

While the National Games is a great opportunity to expose the newer players to the pressure of performing before spectators before moving on to international sporting events to represent India, there is a need to sustain the seriousness and commitment to host the Games regularly, year after year, even if not in such a grand manner.

Practice Question for Mains:

What is the significance of the 36th National Games? How can it be made to contribute more towards India’s sports development story? (250 words)

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