No sporting event in the near future, sports behind closed door the new normal: Kiren Rijiju

The Sports Minister has said in no uncertain terms that India will not be hosting any international events in the near future and the fans will have to get used to the idea of sports behind closed doors as the new normal. 

“We have been working for quite some time now to resume sporting activities but before that, we have to think about practice and training. We are not going to have a tournament kind of situation immediately.,” said Rijiju as quoted by India Today. “We have to learn to live with the situation where sporting events will have to be carried forward without spectators in stadiums or sports venues,” he added.

Indian Sports bracing itself for a huge financial hit

The comments come on the heels of IPL 2020 which has been suspended indefinitely. The BCCI hopes to conduct the tournament in October-November if the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia is postponed. There is a huge financial incentive behind the same.

“The cancellation of IPL will cost the BCCI, the tournament broadcasters and the franchises at least Rs. 3000 crores,” an IPL team executive said as quoted by India Express. The BCCI itself stands to lose Rs. 2000 crore upfront while Rs. 3000 crore, the amount paid by Star Sports network to broadcast the tournament and shared 50:50 between the board and the franchises will have to be returned in case the IPL is cancelled.

Even if the IPL does make a return, franchises stand to lose a huge amount of gate receipts as the sports will be held without fans in the stadium. IPL franchises will lose Rs. 20-45 crores based upon the location.

In other sports, which can ill-afford to take even the slightest financial hits considering they don’t have a revenue cushion that cricket enjoys due to its humongous popularity, the situation is even more precarious. The final of ISL was held behind closed doors and the I-League campaign had to be suspended midway. The clubs in these leagues are already on thin ice financially. Several clubs like Kerala Blaster FC and Hyderabad have started laying off staff while asking players to take pay cuts. In such a climate, the comments by the Sports Minister will hardly be music to the ears of these clubs.

As per the Statista report on the outlook of Indian Sports, a revenue of USD 514 million was forecasted for the year 2020, a year-on-year increase of nearly 20%. However, in the current sea of uncertainty, all predictions go out the window as the sports industry is looking towards rapidly minimizing their losses by cutting costs.  Several examples of cost-cutting manoeuvres have already been seen at various teams. Kerala Blasters recently asked an incoming transfer to agree to a pay cut of 40% after agreeing to initial terms. That transfer is in limbo right now. 

Mizoram takes the lead to help sports 

Sports industry needs help anywhere it can get and Kiren Rijiju’s comments are not totally full of gloom and doom. “Our focus is fighting Covid-19 and at the same time, we will have to work a mechanism to get back to normalcy. It is difficult to confirm dates but I am sure we will have some kinds of sporting events this year,” said Rijiju.

Besides, plans to help sports get back up on its feet are already underway in various states. In a landmark decision, the Mizoram Cabinet, on Friday, granted industry status to sports. The state Sports Minister, Robert Romawia Royte hailed the decision as “historic” and “unprecedented”. “We hope to attract more private companies to invest in sporting activities as Mizoram has evolved conducive sports eco-system,” said Royte, adding that Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and other industry bodies had been demanding the same for a long time. 

Other states would do well to follow Mizoram’s lead. Chief Minister of Mizoram, Zoramthanha, hopes that the move will cause a “vibrant transformation” and it is “for the love of Mizoram and its youth who are obsessed with sports.”

What next?

Nothing can be said in certain terms without knowing about the full extent of the impact that Coronavirus has had on the Indian sports industry. However, government help should go a long way to helping the teams/franchises to steer against the current for a while so that the recovery after this situation is swift and smooth.
The Government of India, in its 2020 Budget, allocated Rs. 2826.92 crores to sports, an increase of mere Rs. 50 crore from the past year. However, the incumbent government’s flagship scheme under the sports umbrella, Khelo India, received a substantial hike of Rs. 312.42 crores, bringing the figure to Rs. 890.42 crores. While the long-term gains from such an investment are likely to be visible only after some time, it at least shows the willingness of the government to invest in all kinds of sports. The sports minister has repeatedly affirmed his commitment to see India finish top-10 in rankings by Olympics 2028 and despite the current financial crisis in sports, hope is that the sun will shine brighter on the other side.

Written by Vatsal Gupta

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