In its century-and-a-quarter history, the Durand Cup had been cancelled just thrice — during the two World Wars (1914-1919 & 1939, 1941-49), and for the third time during the Indo-China war in 1962. This year, however, it was scrapped for the first time owing to reasons that were not related to any conflict. Plummeting sponsor interest, instead, ensured the tournament would be not be held this year.
Like the Durand Cup, the Bombay Gold Cup hockey tournament too has been wading through turbulent times, surviving only because of the generosity of a couple of sponsors and individual donors. These, among a few others, are a couple of prestigious tournaments which have been on life-support for quite some time.
However, that might not be the case from next year. The government has decided to step in to ‘keep them alive.’ In a recent circular, the sports ministry has announced that it will provide financial assistance of up to Rs 25 lakh per year to select prestigious tournaments.
To begin with, the organisers of Durand Cup and Subroto Cup in football, and hockey’s Obaidullah Gold Cup and Bombay Gold Cup will be the beneficiaries of the government’s revised policy. “Financial assistance of up to a maximum of Rs 25 lakh per tournament will be given to the organisers as grant-in aid for organising selected prestigious tournaments in India. These tournaments must have been at least 30 years old and held regularly with good participation of team/players,” the circular, signed by under-secretary AK Patro, read.
“The list of tournaments meeting this criterion may be revised with the approval of the sports minister on the recommendation of an expert committee.”
The Durand Cup, organised by the Army, has been an annual affair ever since it was launched in 1888. One of the oldest tournaments in the world, it acted as the season-opening tournament in domestic football. However, the organisers blamed lack of sponsor interest as the main reason for scrapping it this year while also saying that they had no proper window to conduct the tournament.
Usually held in October, it would have clashed with the Indian Super League. As most of the top Indian players were loaned to the ISL franchisees, the clubs would have been forced to field second string teams. The modest prize money offered too was a demotivating factors for the clubs, with Mohammedan Sporting deciding to pull out of last year’s edition due to this reason. Like Durand Cup, Subroto Cup too has suffered dwindling fortunes. The age-group tournament generated hype this year after it invited Pele for it, but it has been facing financial troubles as well.
Likewise in hockey, the Obaidullah Gold Cup is considered to be among the premier domestic tournaments, which has been a regular feature at Bhopal’s Aishbagh stadium since pre-Independence days. The tournament could not be held for eight years between 2002 and 2010 due to internal wranglings, but was revived again. The Bombay Gold Cup, which attracts country’s top teams, has been in existence since 1955.
Patro said it was necessary to provide financial assistance to these tournaments to ensure their existence. “These are all prestigious events which have been conducted for a long time. But they have been struggling financially and we wanted to ensure they don’t die.”
Find sponsors, NSFs told
While it was windfall for the tournament organisers, the national sports federations have been informed that they shouldn’t depend solely the government to fund their activities. “The entire sports eco-system has changed with the entry of large number of corporate houses in the sports sector. These corporate houses are extending financial support to various sports activities…” the circular said. “Also, the government has made provisions in Companies Act 2013 to enable the corporate houses to spend money from their CSR funds for sports activities. Therefore, NSFs are expected to approach the corporate houses for resources under the CSR rather than solely depending on government funding.”