Recent newspaper advertisements heralding the birth of a sports economy is indeed good news for sportsmen in general and sports entrepreneurs in particular. Tax exemptions that serve as attractive incentives are a much awaited step in the right direction for a small nation who has time and again made forays into the big leagues.
The Minister of Sports (MOS) it must be said cannot be accused of doing nothing. He has indeed made his presence felt in all arenas, virtually sweeping aside officialdom and taking the reins himself when he felt there was a need to up the scoring! This far-reaching legislature stemming from the recent promulgation of a sports policy is indeed a far sighted endeavour that must attract all sports lovers as it will no doubt attract the sports mudalalis who will certainly see opportunities to line their bulging pockets.
How this giant step is going to be articulated will therefore need careful attention and an expert sports management edifice at the Ministry of Sports because translating a vision cannot be merely built on tax dodges; it needs careful and sustained investment with the distinct realisation that debasing the core values of the sport in the process will only prove counterproductive.
You will have then killed the golden goose if not the golden girls and boys who make the world of sports what it is. It will therefore be interesting to observe as to how the MOS intends to leverage this new piece of legislation in order to drive a vigorous programme that will produce the expectations emanating in the sports firmament.
One pragmatic approach
One pragmatic approach may be the creation of a commercial division within the MOS that will actively promote sports investments by identifying an array of opportunities from a roadmap which will define precisely where Sri Lanka is headed in its vision for sports. The private sector will obviously be a vehicle that will need to be mobilised given the beneficial tax regime that is coming into play.
As stated above, the robber barons will come and so be it but channelling that energetic resource into nationally identified sports ventures will be a critical factor. Merely using tax incentives to conjure and invigorate tamashas will naturally result in short carnivals of sport that will only be short lived. Instead, directing those valuable resources to a meaningful national sports master plan will provide long term sustainable results that will rekindle interest and talent from the grass roots upwards.
For that reason, even if bureaucratic impediments will be a necessary evil, the sanction of the MOS in new investments that go beyond a certain value will be a prudent mechanism. All such investments should be subject to a national audit process supervised proactively by the Auditor General’s Department in order to ensure absolute transparency.
The role of COPE too should be extended to play a salutary role in curbing excesses that cater to whims and fancies of political cohorts whose only interest in sports is the largesse it generates.
Strangely enough, the media has so far not dwelled extensively on this new development. It has hardly made any mention of this far-reaching initiative except of course the paid advertisements published by the Ministry of Finance and Planning. Almost on cue has appeared advertisements for T20 Cricket and a big splash about the Asian Youth Games following the award made to Sri Lanka by the OAC.
It is true indeed that we don’t believe in small concerted steps – everything somehow must fall into the grand design, never mind the mind blowing costs. If tax free funds are going to power runaway bandwagons, be it state sponsored or entrepreneur driven, we would be only supercharging the unbridled fantasies that pass for a sound sports development programme based on technical prowess and inane talent.
Making Sri Lanka a sporting hub for instance begs the question, whatever for! Where (and we have asked this question before) does it fit in the national sports policy and national economic plans? We inexorably demand international hubs in Sri Lanka for virtually everything and including sports is no doubt another walk down that garden path.
The MOS makes a plea for country before self. That plea sounds noble, if only we learn to walk that talk. Ambitions are all well and good with the declaration that Sri Lanka intends to be a superpower in netball, badminton, athletics and cricket. The choice made here is realistic except perhaps the goal. But let’s not put a damper on everything. We are world beaters in cricket, so everything must be possible. However, what we must zealously pursue are Asian standards in the first instance. Once we make our mark there, then the aspirations of a nation can take off from that exalted platform.
There was once a repeated fanfare made in the Government controlled press that Sri Lanka Football aims to play the World Cup. Pipe dreams are allowed if at least one had a plan but we know only too well that a seat on the FIFA Ex-Co does not guarantee a place in the World Cup. That comes through hard work and sustained technical advancement. Something even tax exemptions cannot achieve overnight. The sports economy mantra is indeed a great idea. Let it not become a bad dream!