Money talks in sports, as it does in life!

Thursday, 8 March 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Now that the Ironman cometh a few Sundays ago, it heralds another chapter in the advancement of sports in our isle. While that momentous feat was taking shape amidst the chaos of a debutant sport, Captain Cool of our Nation kept his composure while the UNHRC sessions unwound in Geneva.

Life certainly is not for the fainthearted it may seem with the stakes rising higher each day and only the fittest entitled to survival. While it is the toughest, fittest and craziest who challenge all odds, our ministerial team too played their part taking on the might of powerful nations and giving as much as they got!

Back home the hordes of national sentinels took to the streets to warn ‘hands off’ our motherland. We take care of our own appeared to be the refrain and why not? While that sentiment is heart warming as it does the cockles, sensibility also tells us that that we must put our front foot to the pitch of the ball and merely rely on the charitable umpire not to raise the dreaded finger for failing to move our feet in time!

It is therefore imperative that our national resources are harnessed cleverly and sensibly if our sports programs are to flourish and see the light of day! In recent days we have seen the Ministry of Sports (MOS) wax eloquent about the various national sports programs that are out on muster. Admirable though the broad spectrum is, one cannot but question if the financial management of our sports universe is adroit and prudent.

As in most human systems, limitations are a fact of life and no cache of funds however liberal can justify the misuse of resources, especially when it is financial in nature. There is no eternal feast begs the Chinese proverb and not to put the money at our command to its proper use is indeed criminal, because once it is gone, recovery or replenishment is another hard slog all over again. As in life, so does it manifest in sport; the saying there is no free meal is as real as it is omnipresent and only the circumspect will ensure that whatever resources it can generate is put to damn good use!

Ministry of Sports

The MOS, like most Government organisations, cannot lay claim to any expertise in this regard. Not on its track record to this date magnified by the fiascos exhibited with our national pastime, cricket.

While it reigns over an extended organisational structure that embodies a National Sports Council, a National Olympic Committee (NOC) and National Sports Bodies (NSB) for most sports and many being created overnight by opportunistic sports promoters, the dilemma that is duplication of effort is a paradigm that requires careful examination.

The recent MOS pronouncement on the issuance of scholarships to talented sports men and women noble though it is would run aground in the quagmire of sustainability, if the relevant sports body is not a partner in the venture.

For a Government to sustain such a program over an infinite period is virtually impossible if these sports people do not enter the mainstream of sports and are ensconced in that particular sports body. Well, if that is indeed the case, should not such programs be conducted via the NOC and its relevant NSB without the MOS abducting that right?

That is why it is paramount for the MOS to ensure that its NSBs work to a plan. The National Sports Policy operating through a National Sports Council must insist on that basic premise. This means an Activity Plan tied directly to a Budget enumerating the passage of development each year.

This column has repeatedly badgered the authorities to come clean on this somewhat fundamental approach to any organisational framework. If any NSB does not fulfil this basic qualification, they must be placed on quarantine and released only once such an adherence is fulfilled.

The fact is that most NSBs run without a rhyme or reason merely rolling over from one unattended activity to another sans a long term game plan with the result that the sport splutters along its vainglorious way without a qualm of responsibility or accountability. A tryst with the MOS is all that is required and in spite of emboldened statements nothing of sound managerial initiative takes place year after year.

Deployment of funds

At a recent NDTV interview, the Indian State Minster for Sports stated that the Indian Government will not allocate funds for the BCCI because by their contention, it had more than enough. Instead it opted to utilise its vote for the other sports. While the debate that ensued is interesting, the point of note is the wise deployment of funds.

What about Sri Lanka? It is common knowledge that the SLC funds and that of the Government appear to have merged with one entangled with the other. And to orchestrate such sleight of hand, are appointed messiahs who will do the bidding of the almighty. Thus the cavalcade rolls on oblivious to the principals of good governance and sound financial management.

In most other sports, meagre funds do not even attract the interest or the wrath of the MOS. They are allowed to cruise along on with their whims and fancies and the regular tour, just good enough to maintain a semblance of affiliation with the world body. In between, the perennial granddads hold the reins, paying obsequies to the MOS aimed mainly at delaying the inevitable. Change Management and Succession Planning are abhorred and unheard of as the semi-totalitarian regime continues to canter, under the façade of promoting Asian and International development in faraway lands while it is Paradise Lost for the sport in their own land.

This column will return to sponsorships in greater detail in future essays. But suffice to say for the time being that the primary objective of any sponsor is its own well being and prosperity. That is how it should be and will continue to be. Some will of course attempt to derive benefit both to the sport and themselves. It is therefore imperative that the NSBs focus on how sponsorships, which are a significant revenue stream can benefit a sponsor if it intends to engage in a sustainable long-term partnership.

One such venture is the National Marathon supported by Nestomalt. The local Nestle company which identified this event befitting its brand positioning of health and endurance has been associated with the sport consistently for over 20 years. One dare say that the initiative is more with the company than with the AAA.

Be that as it may, this partnership has enabled Sri Lanka to produce marathon athletes year after year and have them represent Sri Lanka in international arenas. Every NSB should be aware of its potential inflows because without that sustenance, the sport flounders and capitulates. Cricket managed to take productive first steps under the guidance of people like the late Gamini Dissanayake; the rest as we know is history!

Resource evaluation

The MOS must begin a process of resource evaluation of all NSBs. It must scrutinise very closely each NSB master plan that transcends activity and resources and indicates where its program is taking us. To carry on aimlessly is to underline the enigma that any road is good enough if you do not know where you are going!

Money talks, no doubt about that. Without devaluing the spirit of sport or of sportsmanship, we must realistically assess our resource quotients. What have we got in comparison to superior sporting nations that have resources in abundance? As our cricketers have shown Down Under, they can match the best in the world when they can dig deep and come up with the goods.

Money must not be the ultimate measure as we all like to profess in moral grandeur, but to go where angels fear to tread, money is what converts the also-ran to deserving victors and gives our nation a place alongside the champions of the world. Now that the Ironman cometh, we need cool captains to take stock of our meagre resources!