Dedicate 'Amrit Kaal' for holistic development of sports in India
To shoot up India’s medal tally, States need to create better infra at the grassroots level and reach out to the talented players who are lost for want of exposure, help and facilities
Sports are an incredible enabler. Sporting events bring youngsters from diverse backgrounds together. They do not only exchange thoughts, ideas and life experiences among themselves but also learn a lot from each other. Team spirit is all about equality, justice, fraternity and liberty. It does not evolve comprehensively and sustain for long if the talent is not allowed to flourish due to socio-economic and regional biases and prejudices.
It must not happen in a country like India which gained independence by making monumental sacrifices and is now celebrating Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav. Unfortunately, disparities in sports facilities continue to be a matter of serious concern in many states. Better facilities, incentives and handholding can do wonders in promoting sports in a wholesome manner as there is no dearth of sports talent in the country.
It is one of the most significant messages from the recently concluded Khelo India Youth Games-2021 where Haryana, despite being a small state, topped the medal chart by bagging 137 medals including 52 Gold, 39 Silver and 46 Bronze followed by Maharashtra which won 125 medals in all.
If Haryana has set an example by aligning sports with its socio-economic dynamics, other states can replicate the same as sports are an important tool to empower the weakest among the weak. Every member of Jharkhand's hockey team which took part in the KIYG has a great story of talent to tell.
Manohar Mundu, 17, among the brightest in the line up, lost his father when he was just a kid. Like most kids around him, he started playing hockey with a bamboo stick. Even after he was admitted into the Jharkhand Awasiya Balak Hockey Prashikshan Kendra in Khunti, the residential school for sports that supports 25 budding athletes in each district, Manohar's travails didn't end. He still didn't have money to buy shoes or a stick. Luckily, his coach was a generous man.
He bought him his first pair of shoes and a nice hockey stick. Abhishek Mundu's father is a policeman. But he didn't earn enough to send his son to an academy for training. There is back-breaking poverty in the region. Jharkhand players bagged 12 medals in the KIYG. The tally will shoot up if the state creates better infra at the grassroots level and reaches out to the talented players who are lost for want of exposure, help and facilities.
Ten out of 12 young players in Andhra Pradesh's kabaddi girl team, which participated in the KIYG, were from a small village in Kapusambham near Vizianagaram. They belonged to the families of agricultural labourers. When asked about the background of the parents, Vandana, one of the players, is reported to have said, "We have our own profession and my parents are labourers by profession and I am very proud of them." Vandana scored 14 points to help her team beat Chhattisgarh 40-28 in their group match at Panchkula's Tau Devi Lal Stadium.
Another player, Munakala Devika, a student of GNR Junior College, said: "We are proud of our parents and it is because of them that we are here. They have encouraged us to play the game, and always given us full support that I need." Andhra Pradesh's trio - Rajitha, Pallavi and Sireesha - came from a poor background but their fierce desire to excel in sports stole hearts at the KIYG.
Notwithstanding difficulties, Rajitha sprinted to Gold in the Girl's 400 metres while Sireesha took bronze behind her. Pallavi lifted the first Gold for Andhra Pradesh in the 64 kg category. In the words of June Gallyot, the Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh official, "Each of them has a very sad story to tell. This is poverty at a different level."
Performance of various states in KIYG-2021 points towards a huge untapped sporting potential of their youths. For example, southern states of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana got 67, 55, 52 and Telangana 13 medals respectively. They have the potential to win more medals but they need to identify talents and help them to excel. Similarly, other bigger states like Madhya Pradesh won 38 medals, Punjab 42, Rajasthan 32, West Bengal 27, Uttar Pradesh 42, Gujarat 24, Odisha 9 and Bihar two respectively.
What is required is a focussed state. Nearly 8,500 players from 33 States and Union Territories took part in the KIYG-2021. Better facilities and training will help them improve their performance, for which an ecosystem needs to be created. One needs to note that sports contribute to economic development as well 'by generating income from sports-related sales and services; boosting international trade; supporting business growth, entrepreneurship and job creation; enhancing a country's reputation; transcending national differences; and fostering universal values of fair play, mutual respect and friendship; improving health and social well-being; encouraging discipline, teamwork, and a competitive spirit."
According to the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), "the multi-billion dollar industry in sportswear and equipment fosters innovation and trade, and boosts foreign exchange earnings. Staging sporting events, whether at grassroots, national or international levels, can enrich the social and cultural fabric of communities, making them more attractive locations for investors and tourists.
However, the business of sport requires a solid legal framework to support the exploitation and trading of IP rights, as well as human and organizational skills." In the words of former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, "Sport has become a world language, a common denominator that breaks down all the walls, all the barriers. It is a worldwide industry whose practices can have widespread impact. Most of all, it is a powerful tool for progress and for development."
The UN has recognized the potential offered by sport to promote sustainable development and peace. It is gladdening indeed that sports and promotion of rural sports, despite being a state subject, are being suitably complemented and supplemented by the Central government's efforts. The Khelo India Scheme is a great initiative being implemented by the Union Ministry of Sports. However, a lot still needs to be done to ensure holistic development of sports in India. Let it be the focus of Amrit Kaal!
(The writer is a senior journalist, author and columnist. The views expressed are strictly his personal)