In sports, Haryana punches above its weight, partly on account of state incentives such as job security. This policy became the subject of controversy after the state government decided to levy a ‘tax’ of 33% on its employees’ earnings from professional sport or commercial endorsements to fund sports development. The move has for now been put on hold. Ajay Sura talks to Ashok Khemka, Haryana government’s principal secretary, sports department, on the subject:
What prompted Haryana to notify new rules for sportspersons?
This was necessitated in light of the suo motu cognisance taken by the Punjab and Haryana high court of Vijender Singh turning to professional boxing. The court noted how public resources, of employment and monetary benefits given to encourage representation of our country at sporting events, were being misused by a few who were turning professional for the sake of money. It was observed how public interest behind such incentives was being subverted by commercialisation. Flaws were noted in existing policies which necessitated reconsideration, and the court highlighted need for possible withdrawal of benefits in such cases.
The sports department through a notification on April 30, 2018, after due approval, tried to fill this gap. The notification was in fact in the interest of sportspersons employed with Haryana government for it regularised professional sports and commercial endorsements, something which was not legal and amounted to professional misconduct.
Sportspersons already pay income tax on the professional fees they earn. Should government take a 33% share?
The policy demanding a third share is only attracted when these sportspersons, who are given jobs and regular salaries for representing their country, turn to professional sports or engage in commercial endorsements.
Under present service and conduct rules, such activities which are commercial in nature are prohibited. Other categories of government employees too would demand similar concessions. Why should they be stopped from doing private work? Bribes would get camouflaged as consultancies, and public interest overshadowed by private. Further, paying income tax is not charity, but a statutory duty.
Critics say if government starts demanding a share it will discourage sports in Haryana which is seen as the medal factory of India.
This is a ridiculous argument. Do these sportspersons play and excel in sports because they will get to enjoy double benefits or do they play for passion and honour of the nation? This policy may affect only a small number of sportspersons in state employment. It does not apply to millions of aspiring sportspersons or those outside the state employment.
Did you involve sportspersons in formulating the policy?
Employees are not normally involved in framing policies concerning their conditions of service. The April 30 notification enables employees to play professional sports and do commercial endorsements, which was earlier prohibited. The outcry is self-centred. It was engineered by a few vested elements from within.
Have sportspersons fully understood the policy?
I guess not. But some wanted to bulldoze the government. Big money was at play here. A false impression of these commercial activities being permissible whilst in government employment before the April 30 notification was sought to be created.
Some well-known athletes have openly criticised you for apparently hurting Haryana’s culture of sports.
Most of them were interested parties and had their own self-interest in mind. In common sportspersons’ lingo, it was a foul least expected of them. They must play fairly. They will not dream of using such lingo against the officials of their federations.
Do you think giving hefty prize money and top government jobs is the right way to encourage sports by a state?
Personally, I feel that offering stable employment is right, and is much needed. Let us do some lateral thinking here. Why should academics be the only way to government recruitments? I would fix 10% of jobs through sports achievement and 90% through professional or academic achievement.
However, sports is played out of passion, not for cash awards. Sportspersons do not win medals because of cash awards. Winning medals takes a combination of latent potential, tenacity, hard work and luck. The cash award for winning a gold medal in Olympics in Haryana is a hefty Rs 6 crore, or nearly $1 million. This reward by itself hardly encourages people to take up sports. These cash awards are only a recognition of achievement, offering instant luxury, but do not necessarily encourage children to take up sports to the same extent as the promise of a government job. Other than Sushil Kumar, no other sportsperson from India has been able to repeat medal winning performance in Olympics. Government should focus its resources in identifying talent, training sportspersons and securing their future post-retirement.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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