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Unleashing the Potential: How India can Dominate as a Sporting Nation

India’s pathway to becoming a sporting giant

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.



India managed to hit the century mark in terms of medals bagged at the Asian games this year, breaking its record of 70 medals achieved in Jakarta 2018. These are all signs of progress but it is essential to put this progress in the right context. Despite India’s amazing progress its medal tally amounts to 27% of the medal tally of the Asian Games 2023 winner- China. To further add context the GDP per capita ratio of China to India is 6:1. At the 2022 Common Wealth Games, India amassed 61 medals in contrast to Australia’s 179 medals and the GDP per capita ratio of Australia to that of India is 30:1. All this data points to the fact that India is overachieving with its limited resources in comparison to its peers and this is what has sparked the motivation for this white paper. If given the right resources can India propel itself to a sporting superpower?


Over the last decades, Sports has become one of the key proponents of economic growth. As per the Diplomat, the global sports sector is estimated to be worth between $480 – $620 billion. The sports ecosystem has been rapidly evolving with a perpetual consumer demand and increasing participation of private companies.

One of the key pillars that facilitates the sports ecosystem is the sporting infrastructure. If we were to take the example of any sporting giant nation, we would see that the sporting infrastructure is completely in sync and strongly supports the larger ecosystem. The sports industry also contributes to the development of the travel and tourism industry but it is important to not only limit our view to the economic benefits that sports can bring but also to the intangibles like improving the mental and physical health of people partaking in sports, fostering a sense of pride and nationalism when we get to see our country compete at the biggest stages.

Despite the sociopolitical context that exists between India and Pakistan, the Cricket world cup match played in India between the two of them where both the teams displayed top sportsmanship and shook hands after the match and not only this but the visiting Pakistani cricket fans were treated with respect and humility which shows how sports can bring two communities together. This is just one example of many how important sports can be to a country but unfortunately at the end of the day there is only so much that can be done with poor/lack of sport infrastructure. The lack of a nationwide strategy in terms of sports development and poor utilisation of available resources are the major deterrents from taking India to being a one trick pony from being a heavy weight in cricket to being a nation that competes on the highest level in all major sports.

2. Importance of sports infrastructure

Just like entrepreneurship is the backbone of the economy, similarly infrastructure is the backbone of the sports ecosystem. The infrastructure consists of grassroot sport facilities, training grounds and personnel, pathway of development for aspiring athletes and much more. The sports economy is capable of contributing to 5% of a country’s GDP. The United State alone employs over 456,000 people and this is expected to rise by 7% over the next decade.

(Sports industry revenue worldwide in 2022, with a forecast for 2023 and 2027(in billion U.S. dollars)


To bring more focus on the Indian context of the sports industry, India generated north of 14,000 Cr in 2022. Cricket contributes to 85% of the sports economy in India which further shows the potential waiting to be tapped into in other sports. The India Premier League (IPL) alone generated investment worth over $3.2bn and has created over 120,000 direct and indirect jobs in the country. We have also seen other industries like the hospitality industry netting over $560 Cr and the advertising revenue crossing Rs 10,000 Cr. It is evident how investing in sports infrastructure can facilitate multi-dimensional growth, but is key to note that this growth is not just limited to economic aspect, there are several holistic benefits of sports too. It is essential for individuals to engage in sports as it improves physical and mental health well-being. Based on studies, physical activity can increase life expectancy by 0.4 years to 4.2 years. Having a well-developed sports infrastructure also allows people to come together to participate in various sporting activities which helps in community building.

3. Current state of sports infrastructure in India 

As per the international standards of sports infrastructure, India has approximately 100 sports facilities that meet the guidelines (as of March 2019). Considering half of India’s population is below 30 years old, that equates to around 70 lakh people sharing one sports facility. Moreover, these sport facilities belong to government owned colleges and university grounds, community centres, urban local bodies, resident welfare associations and private bodies. Majority of these facilities are restricted to hosting international, national and district level games only resulting in very low occupancy rates. These facilities are poorly maintained as they are financially dependent on regulatory authorities for operations and maintenance. One of the key stakeholders responsible for sports governance and development is the government.

Undoubtedly the government has begun to shift its focus towards developing sports in the country. A close look at the budget allocation would indicate that the allocation to sports has increased from Rs 1,121 Cr from 2011 to Rs 3,397 Cr in 2023, an increase of 194% over the last 12 years. However, it is important to note that this budget allocation amounts to only 0.07% of the total budget. If we further analyse the current year sports budget in terms of allocation per citizen, India allocated Rs 24 per year for sports to every citizen whereas developed countries like UK allocated Rs 4,898 per year to every citizen and Australia Rs 976 per year. China which has a similar population to that of India allocated 200 times more than India in terms of sports allocation per capita per day.


Budget allocation (Crores)

Actual utilization (Crores)

Utilization %
































































(Budget allocation towards sports and their respective utilization)

Another alarming statistic is the underutilization of the allocated budget. Out of 13 years, there has been an underutilization in 10 of these years. The major reason behind this is the public bodies wait until the last quarter to spend the allocated funds which is a symptom of poor planning and vision.

It’s not all doom and gloom, the government is aware of the challenges the sports industry is facing and has been taking active steps to combat the same. Since the Commonwealth Games of 2010, India has made major strides in sports. Various schemes implemented by the government have started to bear fruits.

The government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme or TOPS, along with the Mission Olympic Cell provides specialised training aligned with individual goals and financial assistance to selected athletes. This scheme was launched in 2014 under the aegis of Ministry of Youth Affair and Sports (MYAS). The focus areas of this scheme are:

  • provide financial assistance and other help to athletes

  • customized training from top coaches at modern and well-equipped sports facilities and institutions.

  • assistance for buying sport-specific equipment.

  • help in participating in international sporting events and also for the appointment of their support staff such as physiotherapists, sports psychologists, physical trainers, etc.

  • out-of-pocket allowance of a certain sum as an incentive.

The TOPS scheme has borne fruits of its labour by producing athletes like PV Sindhu, Sakshi Malik and Neeraj Chopra. The 3 of them combined have produced 40 medals across various major competitions.  At the Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast in 2018, 47 out of the 70 medal-winning athletes were supported by the TOPS scheme. As of January 2022, the TOPS supports 301 athletes.

The Khelo India programme launched in 2018 aimed at mainstreaming sports as a tool for national development, economic development, community development and individual development. The program strives to promote “Sports for Excellence” as well as “Sports for All”.

4. Fact or Myth: India’s sporting scene is a one-trick pony dominated by cricket?

There is no denying that cricket is by far the most popular and most played sport in India but one cannot ignore the massive upturn in popularity of other sports.

Football for example has shown a growth in viewership (Indian Super league) from 74.7 million in 2014 to 211 million in 2021. The rise in these sports goes beyond just viewership numbers. There has been an uptick in the accolades that India has achieved in these sports. The table below is a summary of the major strides India has taken in sports apart from cricket.


Achievements (Over the past 20 years)


Saina Nehwal paved the way for India by becoming the first ever Indian to get an Olympic medal in badminton. Since then, we have had several promising stars step up to the occasion most prominently PV Sindhu who bagged a couple of medals (silver and bronze) at the Olympics to date.


A combined 3 Olympic medals shared between Sushil Kumar and Sakshi Malik.


Abinav Bindra with a gold and Gagan Narang with a bronze at the Olympics


The first Indian to win a gold medal in athletics -Neeraj Chopra preceded by Anju Bobby George the first Indian athlete to win a medal at World Championships.


Mary Kom is a six-time world championship holder which is an outstanding feat and Vijender Singh became the first Indian Boxer to win an Olympic medal.

A key trend to notice here is there are several instances where India has won its first medal in the respective sport (Using Olympics or World Championships as standard). These are moments where India has broken its proverbial glass ceiling and entered into its growth phase. There have been several positive developments in these sports and hence it is of paramount importance that the direction these Sports head into is one of exponential growth and success consciously and thoughtfully crafted by those in charge.

Brief summary of the schemes implemented by GOI.

Policies and schemes

Objectives of the scheme

National Sports Policy, 2014

• Raising the standard of sports in the country.

• Promoting the development of adequate sports infrastructure across the country.

Revised Khelo India - National Programme for Development of Sports Scheme, 2016

• The Urban Sports Infrastructure Scheme (USIS) has been merged under „Khelo India - Sports Infrastructure‟ as a central sector scheme.

• In the recently launched Khelo India app, a user can search an exhaustive database for sporting facilities across the nation. The database includes SAI facilities, SAI-supported facilities, and private facilities

SAI Training Centre Scheme (STC)

• Providing in-house training and coaching, along with nutritional assistance to sports persons.

Come and Play Scheme

• Ensuring optimum utilisation of five stadiums in Delhi.

• Opening designated areas in SAI stadiums for community sports.

Panchayati Yuva Krida Aur Khel Abhiyan (PYKKA) Scheme

• Providing funds for sports infrastructure development and maintenance in villages and block panchayats.

National Playing Fields Association of India (NPFAI)

• Spreading awareness on fitness and encouraging Indian children to play sports by building more playing fields and spaces in the country.

• Establishing playing fields associations at the state level so that NPFAI can sanction funds to these states for the development of playing grounds and parks.

Now that the current landscape of the sporting environment has been covered, it is important to understand what are the major reasons which are holding India back:

1. Sports is still far from being considered as an organised sector due to the lack of cohesion amongst the departments and clear guidelines. To quote former Indian hockey player Aslam Sher Khan – “It’s been more than 40 years (fighting against the system). So, imagine, if I have been saying since then that the system is not right, how much worse it has become in that period.”

2. The lackadaisical attitude of those in charge has been a matter of concern for quite some time. Due to a lack of transparency and accountability, there have been several instances where the sports authorities have taken a backseat approach to handling affairs. The All-India Football Federation had been banned by FIFA due to not complying with the world body standards. As a result, India had to act quickly or risk losing their rights to host the U-17 Women's FIFA World Cup. At the end of the day after coming under pressure from FIFA, the Indian authorities fast racked the procedure to end up in compliance with world standards.

3. Sports is a state subject which means that there is a lack of unified vision as a nation. Subsequently, there is a lack of segregation of duties amongst those in charge. Many Indian sporting organisation find their governance body handling management work too which is a major deterrent to the ethical functioning of any governing body.

4. Lack of grassroot sports infrastructure and poor maintenance of existing facilities.

5. Unfavourable perceptual mapping of sports as a career compared to a hobby. Many parents believe that sports is not a lucrative career to pursue and hence many young potential athletes cannot realize their dream of pursuing sports as a career.

6. The guidelines to obtain funding are very restricted and ambiguous due to which only a handful of entities can undertake funding. For instance, both the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyaan and Fit India Movement are policies implemented to provide sports equipment to government schools and ensure maintenance, but due to duplication of policies, this raises confusion amongst interested schools as to whether they will get funding from both these programmes and who are they accountable to.

7. Red tape and corruption are unfortunately still prevalent across the Indian governance ecosystem and the sporting ecosystem is also suffering from the same. In 2012 the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) was suspended from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for electing members with pending criminal cases against them in its governing body. This forced Indian athletes to compete at the Sochi Winter Games under the IOC flag, instead of the Indian banner.

5.Roadmap to developing sports in India

India can reach the pinnacle of world sports within the next 30 years if the governing bodies commit the required resources to do the same. Having one of the youngest population demographics in comparison to countries like China, India is currently in its “sporting prime” and can catapult itself to greater heights. This can be done if there is a shared vision and a long-term strategy. Basis this premise, the following recommendations can help India realise this vision.

1. Inculcating a culture of participation in sports at a very young age. This can be achieved by educating the masses as to how sports can be a lucrative career and ensuring that schools place equal focus on integrating physical education in the existing curriculum.

2.  Similar to India developing Smart Cities, likewise the concept of “Sport Cities” should be encouraged. These cities will be major hubs for aspiring athletes and would offer them with the best infrastructure, opportunities and environment needed to succeed.

3. Government should promote startups and foreign investments in the sporting ecosystem to help solve major problems such as lack of well-maintained infrastructure, poor/no availability of coaching, under-utilization of existing facilities. Doing so would also help ease the burden on the government.

4. Having more transparency and accountability in the way various sports governance bodies operate. It is essential that sports are free from all bureaucratic handicaps that currently exist in abundance.

5. All the stakeholders (governing bodies, coaches, players etc) should all be on the same page in terms of goals and objectives. The guidelines governing the bodies should be as clear and concise as possible.

6. The establishment of PPP (Public private partnership) should be implemented on a large scale in India as doing so would allow collaboration amongst the state and private bodies to further facilitate the growth of sports. Under this model the government leases out facilities to private sector entities, who are responsible for developing the facilities, maintaining and operating them. There is a shared benefit for all the stakeholders involved. To further prove the validity of this model, the state-of-the-art airports of Delhi and Bangalore are products of the PPP model.

7. Giving more emphasis on sports such as basketball and football where India is clearly behind the power curve.


India has already started taking small but meaningful steps in the path to augmentation of the sports industry. The country has slowly but gradually begun to realize that sports is more than a means of propagating physical and mental well-being, it is a key proponent for the growth of a country as investment in sports leads to exponential growth in not only the sport itself but also industries like hospitality, tourism, media and advertising etc. India has amassed a total of 35 Olympic medals since its participation in the year 1900 in comparison to United States 2980 medals. Niti Ayog devised a plan to get India 50 medals at the 2024 Olympics which would surpass India’s grand total of 35 if things go as per plan.

Just like any organisation cannot achieve success without all departments working in synchronization towards a common goal, it is paramount that India implements a unified sporting strategy to avoid having an identity crisis from being tunnel visioned. With programmes such as Khelo India which provide a podium to youngsters to showcase their talent, India is definitely moving on the right track. We can see how sports like Kabaddi have started to gain popularity amongst the masses and doing so has helped to promote the country’s heritage.

It is crucial that the sport’s governing bodies do not take their foot of the pedal any time soon. The governing bodies can help speed up the process of metamorphosis of the sports industry by adopting the PPP model, fostering a culture of competitive sports at school level, incentivizing participation in sports and dusting the cobwebs of lackadaisical and poor governance amongst sporting authorities. Doing so would help India establish itself as one of the superpowers in the global sports industry.  

Meet The Thought Leader

Subham Rajgaria  is a mentor at GGI an undergraduate from IIT Kharagpur. He is an incoming MBA candidate at HBS. He has worked at legacy firms such as Westbridge capital and Mckinsey & Co.

Meet The Authors (GGI Fellows)

Lalit is a seasoned professional with over 3 years of experience in the external audit of Wealth and Asset Management clients during his time at Ernst and Young. Having done his undergraduation in the field of finance and being a qualified ACCA he is passionate about the science behind numbers and equipping himself with relevant skills to make a positive impact in the ecosystem. He loves to travel and explore/learn about different cultures.

If you are interested in applying to GGI's Impact Fellowship program, you can access our application link here.


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