We often assume that the best athlete will win gold. But talent and drive can only take a sportsperson so far. To become the best, they also need access to good facilities, qualified coaches, and the support of local and national sporting agencies. In essence, they need good sport governance.
As a nation India is known for its love of cricket. But there's so much more to Indian sport! There are hundreds of sports and sporting organisations across the country. Many are thriving, but others are stagnating, with the Sports Authority of India identifying poor sport governance as one of the critical factors restricting Indian sporting success.
Sports governance is the process by which organisations are directed and overseen; it's about big picture and long-term vision as well as compliance.
Luckily, Deakin University Research Fellow Geoff Schoenberg is an expert in this field. In 2018, with the support of an Australia-India Council (AIC) grant, Geoff made it his mission to take his know-how to India and help the country improve its sport management systems. Getting it right means more sport—at all levels—can be enjoyed across the country, and Indian athletes will have a better chance of reaching the top of their field.
Of course, India differs from Australia in many ways, so Geoff couldn't simply walk in and say 'Here, I know everything about governance, let me tell you what you should do!' Instead, he had to listen and understand the needs of the Indian stakeholders, then work with them to bring about change.
"We went to Bangalore, Delhi, Bhopal and Mumbai to deliver workshops," says Geoff. "It's very much about finding organisations who want to make a change and helping them in a really collaborative, participatory way," says Geoff.
It's clear to see the work he's been doing through the AIC grant has started a transformation in India. As word spread about Geoff's workshops, two of the country's biggest sporting organisations attended a session together. Historically the groups have rarely, if ever, been seen in the same room. Geoff was able to unite the two and help them realise they share a similar vision, and should be working together—a move that could have really positive outcomes for athletes in their field.
"Without the grant these workshops wouldn't have happened," says Geoff. "[It] gave me the ability to have Sport Australia involved and it allowed me to run the workshops free of charge. So it really provided the opportunity to make sure we got the right people in the room."
The success of the project in India has led Geoff to launch a podcast, The President's Lounge. This important digital resource—also made possible by the AIC grant—allows Geoff to share his knowledge with a much wider audience. That's great news for sports fans around the world, because better governance means more sport, better athletes and bolder sporting events!
Like training for a marathon, improving sports governance in India takes time and hard work. However, the project has left Geoff feeling positive. "The expectations people have around what good governance looks like is changing. It's only a few small snowflakes at this point but hopefully that will sort of lead to the big swell of change that will eventually come through the sector."
With over a billion potential athletes in the country, improving sports governance could result in big wins for India.
Read the full interview with Geoff from our 'Australia & India. A Dynamic Mix' series.
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