Behind the scenes: Administrators work on funding, contract extensions after Olympics postponement

The Sports Ministry has said that the postponement of the Olympics is something they will roll with. Seen here in this file photo is Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju with wrestlers Ravi Dahiya, Bajrang Punia, Vinesh Phogat and Deepak Punia. PTI Photo/Manvender Vashist

When Santiago Nieva, the high performance director of the Indian boxing team, first learned about the Olympics being postponed by a year, his immediate reaction was one of resilience. "We have another year to prepare. It's up to us to make the most of it. As a coach that is what I have to prepare for," he said.

But in the same conversation, Nieva also spoke of the challenges that had to be dealt with. The primary of which was whether he would still be part of the team's plans for the Olympics. "My contract ends in December this year. I'll have to wait and see what the federation decides for me," Nieva added.

It's not just the athletes who have to prepare for a delayed Olympics. While athletes' focus will remain on the field of play, others have to worry about what the financial implication of a delayed Olympics means. Everything has to be extended by a year - contracts of coaches and support staff, funding for overseas tours and the Target Olympic Podium scheme that serves to support India's very best athletes. Planning for the same has already begun.

About a week ago, IOA chief Narinder Batra sent out a letter to the national sports federations asking them to begin the process of extending contracts. "As you are already aware the 2020 Olympics is postponed to 2021. We now need to plan for: Extension of Contracts for HPD (High Performance Director), coaches, support staff etc. till end of 2021 as many such contracts are ending in 2020, the process needs to start as soon as possible," the IOA chief wrote.

The IOA isn't the body that pays for any of these contracts - that's the Indian Government. However, the Sports Ministry is on board with Batra's call to the federations. "Dr. Batra has requested all the federations to extend the agreement for one more year. The national federations will have to take a call whether they want to continue or not," sports secretary Radheyshyam Julaniya said.

The Sports Ministry says the postponement is something they will roll with. "Nothing has to be looked at again. Whatever has to continue will continue. Coaches is a continuing thing. We need coaches not just for this Olympics but for the future as well," Julaniya said.

The federations on their part seem largely on board, preferring to go with continuity for the most part. Nieva's contract as well as that for women's coach Raffaele Bergamasco are expected to be extended until August next year.

The wrestling federation (WFI) also says they will do the same. "We are planning to stick with the same coaches until next year. Anyway, their contracts were expected to go until August but we will be looking to extend them until the same time next year. We still have another four months to go ahead. The coaches aren't going anywhere just yet. Right now we are waiting for the lockdown to end so we can go to the office and send a letter to the Sports Authority," said WFI secretary Vinod Tomar.

While the cost for funding athletes, coaches and training solely for Olympic preparation is a sizeable amount - the Target Olympic Podium alone was allocated a budget of INR 100 crore in December 2018 for the Tokyo Olympics-- it's unlikely that that the entire fund has been consumed. "A lot of funding that went into the TOP Scheme is unused simply because after the first three months of 2020, there hasn't been any sporting activity across the world. Athletes haven't been able to train abroad or go for competitions. It's unlikely that there will be many tournaments for the rest of the year as well. So the bulk of that original funding will carry forward for training for the Games in 2021," said an official with Sports Authority of India.

But while the India government has near endless pockets to back their athletes with, that's not a possibility for everyone. A number of India's premier athletes are supported by private organisations that now have to factor an extra year's expenses into their running costs.

"All our current contracts were up to the Olympics. We have to extend these contracts now," says Viren Rasquinha, the CEO of Olympic Gold Quest. He admits that while the Olympics postponement is one thing, the havoc wrecked on economies around the world as they shut down in an effort to curb the spread of the Coronavirus is a serious threat.

"We're a non-profit organisation we depend on donations to keep running. Because of the virus, the economy is going to take a hit and all companies will be wary of how they spend money at this time. When budgets go down, the first thing that takes a hit is advertising and CSR funds that go towards funding sports," he says.

That, though, will be a challenge for someone like Rasquinha to overcome. "We would reassess what we are doing but we will continue. We can't raise funds for one year to support athletes and then stop supporting them the year after. We have to find a way to raise money. That is going to be the tough thing but it's not like we were going to wrap up after Tokyo. We will manage to find a way," says Rasquinha.