The Union Cabinet Minister for Sports and Youth Affairs, M.S. Gill, is confident that the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi will be a landmark event. In an interview to The Hindu, he spoke about the preparations for the Games, the steps taken to improve performance, and his efforts towards reforming the pension scheme.
Excerpts:On the Commonwealth Games
The Commonwealth Games has to be the first priority because it’s a very huge venture. Naturally there’s a lot of concern and lot to do till the wedding is over. Once you engage the girl, there are long preparations in India till the last night before the baarat. Like I said in Beijing, I am Naseeruddin Shah in ‘Monsoon Wedding’.
The Games had been taken much earlier by Mr. Vajpayee. They were endorsed and continued obviously by the current Prime Minister and government. Three or four years had already gone. I can only talk from that period. And as I said the first day, I cannot discuss first principles.
My job is to make sure the bandobast is complete, the stadiums are ready. I have to make sure people get a good welcome, they have a good stay, and they leave with happy memories of India. Of course we should have a good performance in terms of medals.Major stadiums
Seven major stadiums are being built by the Sports Authority of India through the CPWD. (Rs.) 1000 crores had been allocated and given to us, but I got it raised to (Rs.) 2460 crores. The cabinet did it without hesitation. Now that we have taken on this burden, funding cannot be a quibble. The only thing is the enhanced requirement I take that has to be looked at very carefully by financial experts. In this last year I’ve tried to put together a good, tight financial supervision arrangement.
When I came in there were problems with three stadiums. A minor one on swimming but still important. They wanted more lanes for practice but if we had to follow them we had to smash all the money spent, and start all over again. So I called everybody interested, and we found a solution agreeable to all.
The swimming pool is going on, there isn’t much of a problem. The second one was the shooting range (in) Tughlakabad. That also was stuck on some technical questions. I went immediately to Tughlakabad, and we spent the whole morning there, listening to everybody, all the arguments, and I got it done.
From that day the work started. There is no hitch now. It’s only how quickly we can catch up on lost time. The third is the cycling velodrome. There were arguments between world cycling and us and other federations, and when I went to Beijing for the Games, we had discussions there, and again we solved it. That is also on at full speed. All these seven stadiums are going to be completed by the end of the year. But cycling and shooting will go a month or two over.
There is one major item. Somehow, and I leave it at that, the Games Village is being built across the Yamuna and the stadium is here in Lodhi road. But I have to now deal with it as it is on my plate. I worked first with the Delhi government, I called all their people, went over what the possibilities were.
Three possibilities were there. I went over that, and the next day we got this thing, which had been pending for years, done. It’s being built at breakneck speed. But because it was so late it will stretch into May. But the engineers are confident now. To do these things, I believe more than men, you need systems. So the moment I came I set up a Commonwealth Games co-ordination committee. (Delhi Chief Minister) Sheila Dixit comes happily, (IOA President) Suresh Kalmadi comes. I believe wisdom does not come with seniority. We have an open meeting because anybody can have the better thought. And I’m willing to listen. Every meeting, we go over the minutes of the last time, action taken on each item, and then go forward. We hammer out decisions that are happily acceptable. There is no bulldozing anybody.On improving performance
Whether you lose tournaments or win them, or standards don’t seem to be rising or even falling, the question is what can you do, what should you be doing? Sports has never been funded in a big way.
For the first time last year, I went to the Cabinet and they happily sanctioned (Rs.) 678 crores over two and a half years for coaching for the Commonwealth Games. Never has this kind of money been provided. And what are we doing? The moment we got that sanctioned, we asked the federations to hold trials and choose people.
Today 1300 of them are under intensive training. SAI has centres, Bangalore, Kolkata, Patiala, all over. They have 250 coaches. We are not stinging on foreign coaches. We are spending plenty of money in sending these people — the swimmers have just gone for 75 days at great cost to Europe. The money is there. The programmes needed are being done.On monitoring money spent
(With regard to) monitoring, I have strengthened the Sports Authority of India. The Director General is an additional secretary level man, Mr. Sayan Chatterjee. Two joint secretary level chaps have been brought in for the first time.
I keep telling Sayan Chatterjee to tell these chaps, “Please go to camps.” Are they being coached? Is it being well run? Are they being kitted? Are they properly fed? I make sure these people go and are all the time on the ball. They had problems – buy it, tender it. Everybody is unhappy. There’s a simpler way. The best way is you know you are giving them Rs. 10,000 as an estimated cost.
And you know there are three or four types of track suits or kits that are worthwhile. Go there, take the Rs. 10,000, pay it, bring us the bill, bring us the kits, show the coach that you didn’t pocket the money and stay with the second-hand. In other words, we are trying to supervise the training as much as human beings can.On pensions
Cricketers used to be poor when I was in college. I have been aware all my life that all sports people are in poverty. They get a pittance. Let’s leave alone cricket since it’s comfortable. But all the rest of them remain in the same condition.
The first thing I did, I doubled the pensions. P.T. Usha was getting Rs. 4000, what is this? To suddenly double everything is not a small thing. But more than that, I have said publicly, I don’t hesitate to speak out, to give P.T. Usha, OK I might say I doubled it, but is Rs. 8000 a pension? For a person of this level?My intention
In this tenure, all I can do is tell you my intention. And my intention is absolute and determination is full, that I want to raise it, I often wildly say it, it’s my desire, it should be 20, 25, or 30,000.
You have won a medal at the highest level. Try even going there. In other words, the condition of sports people, I am absolutely determined to improve more and more.
There was a horrifying story, a woman wrote to me that her pension was getting over. Pension, in any job, is for life isn’t it? Here was a Ministry where the pension was three years or five years. I got around that also. Now all of them are going to get life-time pension. Many of them, I can give you the list, have got 35,000, 40,000, 50,000 arrears cheques. My simple message is I will go on pushing this.