Soon, the youth in Uttar Pradesh will need to pay a hefty amount of money to access sports facilities and training in the state, even in government-owned stadiums and sports complexes.
The Yogi Adityanath government plans to hand over all the sports complexes and stadiums in Uttar Pradesh to private groups, who would run it on a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model. This means that access to sports facilities in the state will become more and more expensive.
Meerut sports officer Aale Haidar told Newsclick that all regional sports officers in the state had been asked, in a meeting held on 10 May at the Sports Directorate in Lucknow, to look for private groups to run the stadiums.
To start with, every district stadium will seek and issue advertisements in this regard, inviting applications from private groups to run the stadiums and sports complexes.
Haidar said the idea was to look for private establishments like popular educational groups and sports companies to run the stadiums between 10am and 3pm. Those who fulfil the criteria will be given the licence for a year to run the stadiums and provide the sports facilities in those stadiums.
As part of the newly floated and approved proposal, Kailash Prakash Stadium located in Meerut will be handed over to private parties.
Haidar called it a “PPP model of sports development.”
“Look, stadiums are generally filled with people from 6am to 10am. That is the timing for sportspersons and sports enthusiasts to throng the stadium. After that the stadium is completely empty. So the sports directorate came up with this proposal to further boost the possibility of development and maintenance of sports infrastructure on a PPP model,” Haidar said.
However, when asked if the move would lead to complete privatisation of sports complexes in the future, officials in the state sports department did not want to comment.
The move to hand over the stadiums will apply not only to every cricket, hockey and football ground, but also to sports establishments used for gymnastics, gymnasiums, wrestling halls, swimming halls, badminton halls, basketball courts, athletic tracks, boxing halls and table tennis court.
Most of the sports enthusiasts Newsclick spoke to said the move was a “ploy and just a beginning” to privatise the public infrastructure devoted for the promotion of sports among the people.
The result will be that sportspersons will have to pay more to access the stadiums and other sports complexes after 10am.
Right now, the stadium charges Rs 1,000/month from sportspersons above 18 years of age, and an annual fee of Rs 100 from those below 18 years of age. For the elderly, the annual charge to access the stadiums for walking inside is Rs 2,400.
Sports enthusiasts and others who use the stadium in Meerut are apprehensive that the charges to use facilities of the stadium might increase manifold once the control of the stadium goes in the hands of a private group, as the private party will only seek to make profits.
Even as the sports directorate and sports officer of Meerut maintain that the move will lead to better facilities with more equipment in the stadium, the majority of sports enthusiasts are suspicious.
Newsclick talked to a group of sportspersons and enthusiasts who frequent the Kailash Prakash Stadium in Meerut.
A majority of them believe the move will exclude and prevent sportspersons from poor and marginalised backgrounds from accessing sports right from the beginning.
“Even if the sports officials say that the private parties will not increase the charges, I am 100 per cent sure the first thing the private group will do is to hike the charges to access different sports facilities. Private groups are interested only in profit-making. Why would someone take the control of a stadium and spend money on its infrastructure if they would not want to make huge profits,” said Ramesh Tomar, a Meerut resident, who is a regular at Kailash Prakash Stadium.
According to local football coach Abhinav Pant, it would be a disastrous move for sportspersons as it will eliminate the possibility of children from marginalised background from accessing stadiums. Eventually, this will ensure that poor kids will not be able to enter sports at all.
“There are so many private sports academies that charge huge sums for training. Kids from financially humble backgrounds are unable to gain entry in those academies that exist right outside the stadiums. What is the point of handing over sports complexes and stadiums to private bodies that will increase the prices,” Pant says.
“It means that you want to turn the government sports infrastructure that is accessible and cheap into private academies that do not offer any facility without charging huge sums of money,” he adds.
Aale Haidar, though, maintains that the proposal is to hand over the stadium only between 10am and 3pm.
Another local cricket coach Mufassir Ali is of the opinion that “handing over the stadiums to private parties will make it extremely difficult for players to access them.”
“One would be an idiot to believe that it is good for the pubic. Now the government has washed its hands off from even promoting sports among people. Despite the rhetoric, the government does not want to spend money on that,” Ali said.
“Private groups only know how to make profit. Unless and until someone is really committed to the promotion of sports, it is extremely unlikely that private parties will not look to make money by increasing the charges to access the facilities inside the stadium,” he added.
This move would only ensure further commercialisation of public services and properties that are meant for common people, he said.
“The state government should do the kind of infrastructure growth that the government is expecting private parties to do in the sports complexes,” Ali added.