The role of society is to encourage human endeavour in all its pursuits. Sports edify this spirit, and the state steps in to help the development of sports. Merely rewarding success does not promote a sporting culture, much like awarding a Nobel Prize does not create an Einstein or a Tagore. We must focus on nurturing sporting temperament over a system of rewards. Infrastructure development, training facilities, dietary improvements are all core aspects that help create an environment for people to better train themselves. This has been the biggest challenge in Indian sports, where governments are keener to offer cash-prizes to Olympic medalists than cultivate Olympians.
In modest societies, lack of economic privilege acts as a direct impediment for sportspersons. Lack of resources compels youthful exuberance to be frittered away in gathering bare sustenance, and the sporting potential is lost. The state’s primary responsibility is to create equality of opportunity where potential can be honed. That is the reason why public employment is promised to performing talent, enabling sportspersons to focus on sports and not the money.
Under the service rules, all employees of the state are barred from undertaking any other occupation or business. Therefore, if an employee wishes to pursue another commercial engagement, then they must forgo the public employment. Conversely, the state has the claim overall proceeds that its employees make during public employment. This provision poses constraints for sportspersons. Ideally, if the service rules are applied, a sportsperson cannot pursue sports during the subsistence of the employment, as it would come at a cost to the office they hold. The state, therefore, makes an exception for them.
It is because the pursuit of sports brings laurels to society and a feeling of national pride that the state treats sportspersons as being on duty while training and taking part in competitions. But, such a relaxation cannot extend to a sportsperson focusing solely on commercial gains. Therefore, as long as the pursuit of sports is national (amateur or non-commercial) it is allowed; but not commercial (professional).
Since sportspersons have a short career expectancy, it was felt that opening up the professional arena would encourage more people to take up sports as a career. Heeding the welfare of sportspersons and the development of sports, the Haryana government decided to allow players to pursue professional competitions, something which was previously disallowed. Because the pursuit of professional competition came at the time and cost to the public office, it was felt that the state should not allow it unfettered.
Therefore, the state as the employer decided to retain a fraction of the profits that the players made while pursuing commercial enterprises as long as they did it as public employees. This wasn’t a “tax” or “penalty” for performing players, but a fair deduction for pursuing commercial gains at the time of the employer. Otherwise, it would be unfair to the employer to have their employees making a profit while not doing their work, and still retaining the benefits. It is in this context that the April 30 notification of the Haryana government must be seen.
The notification allows a sportsperson to keep their public employment and pursue professional sports and commercial endorsements. The sportsperson would be given extraordinary leave (without pay) during the said period and only one-third of the income earned needed to be deposited with the state. Such money would solely be used by the State Sports Council for the development of sports.
The notification was attacked by professional players who saw it as a “tax” on their labour. However, this is far from the truth. Players are free to pursue amateur sports and can hold all incomes from it. But when they pursue commercial work, then they do so not just for the competition, they are lured by the money. Because they earned that money at the benefit of public employment, they have a responsibility to society. They must share their winnings for the development of sports in India. And that is what the notification sought to bring about.
It is not a draconian provision of a state mafia, rather it is an enabling provision that works both to the benefit of the sportsperson and society. The sportsperson can enjoy the security of public employment, and also pursue any commercial enterprise related to sports. The society in turn gets to share their success through a feeling of national pride and contributions from that income. The money that the professional players of today contribute will only go on to help the successive generations of Olympians. The role of the state is of a facilitator, acting in the best interest of everybody.