The term Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is thrown around a lot these days, and with good reason. We are living in times of heightened consciousness about one’s duty towards society at large and India is lucky enough to have some of the biggest business enterprises in the world. CSR is simply a concept which urges these enterprises to spare a thought for the society and environment in their pursuit of profit. But it ultimately boils down to a minimum amount of money that must be spent towards social initiatives, one of which was identified by the Company Act, 2013 as “training to promote rural sports, nationally recognized sports, Paralympic sports and Olympic sports”. This was later broadened to include “construction, renovation, and maintenance of stadiums, gymnasiums, and rehabilitation centers”.
Could CSR provide the much-needed sports development?
The Act invariably raised the question – Could CSR provide much-needed impetus to sports development in India? Theoretically, it could. Investment from corporate entities in the grassroots sport would definitely go a long way in increasing participation in sport. Especially in rural areas which have long been heralded as pockets of hidden talent but somehow still do not get easy access to sports. Corporate intervention in these areas through sports promotion and sporting infrastructure could leave a lasting legacy with possible tangible benefits. Another area where corporate investment could, and slowly is, making a telling difference is in funding of athletes and their training. Both these areas seem like obvious avenues, but then why are they not more extensively explored? – Return on investment. Although CSR was never meant to provide monetary returns, it holds great potential for social traction.
To claim CSR is being misused by corporates is perhaps going a step too far. There is no doubt that present CSR initiatives are producing results but there is a lack of vision and questionable sustainable benefits. Marathons and run-for-charity events used to be the most attractive properties for CSR funding as it provided massive brand visibility under the banner of a good cause. Another avenue which became popular was the sponsoring of elite, high potential athletes before major tournaments. Success for the athlete was celebrated by the sponsoring organizations and the athletes would become brand ambassadors and feature for the sponsors in promotional events. While these steps can definitely be considered as investments in sports, are they really setting a platform for sustainable sports development? The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) thought otherwise as it stated that one-off events would not be deemed as CSR expenditure.
The CSR policies have been put in place with the right vision but till date, sports has not been high on the priority list for corporate entities. In the financial year 2015-16, only Rs. 57 crore (0.69%) of the Rs. 8,185 crore total spent in CSR expenditure, was spent on sports development. In a way it is not shocking as corporates chose to focus on health, education and rural development, areas which definitely need the support in a developing country as ours. Investment in sports is also a tough sell as the general awareness regarding sports and its impact on society is low or unknown. However, sponsoring athletes during the non-competition season and investing in sports infrastructure could be a good start and one can hope that as the benefits from these measures shine through, there will be more investments in sustainable sports development projects which will pave the way for a bright sporting future for the nation.
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