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Making of a Sporting Nation

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By JP Pandey
Nelson Mandela, the Nobel Laureate for Peace, once said, “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand.” India, the home of maximum number of youths in the world, has the immense potential to excel in the field of sports and develop into a sports powerhouse. A welcome change is that the country has progressed from the days of “kheloge kudoge to hoge kharab” to “Khelo India”.
Sport is not a general connotation attached to only Games and sportspersons, but it’s beyond that. A sporting nation will have a fit and healthy population, which will contribute more to the country’s growth and development. The eco-system of Indian sports needs serious introspection. Nearly 8 million children suffer from malnutrition and more than 250 million live below the poverty line. Sports have to be linked with health, employment and excellence in the field.
There is an immense gap between India and other countries of the world in the arena of Olympic Sports. Despite the large population, our performance in international events is abysmal. We have only 0.003 medals per million people. In comparison, China has 0.075 and the USA 0.361. Relatively less developed countries like Ethiopia have 0.088, not to speak of Jamaica, which has 3.931. The Chinese have built their success strategically by concentrating on diving, gymnastics and table tennis. If we revolutionise sports, It’s entirely possible to win more medals.
Sport is not a significant economic activity in this country. Sports do not give assurance to earn ‘sustainable livelihood’ in youth. If the whole sporting scenario is made to explore the possibilities of increased government and private sector involvement and find out the methods by which Sports can become a significant business opportunity, it would prove to be the key to converting India into a sporting nation.
Infrastructure has been another bottleneck. Once, the famous Dutch penalty corner specialist Jan Bovelander told me on his visit to Oakgrove School, Mussoorie, that there are over 35,000 sports clubs and more than a thousand Astro Turf fields in Netherlands, a small country with 41,500 sq. km. area and about 16.5 million population. However, there are not more than hundred grounds with Astro Turf in India and the state of Uttarakhand has only one. There is a major shortfall in investment in the sports sector. We spend only around 2 paisa per capita per day on sports, which serves to highlight the low level of spending.
Lack of information and lack of access can effectively exclude large swathes of a country’s population, resulting in a small percentage of effective participants in sports. In Netherlands, nearly two-thirds of the population above 15 years engages in sports. Social mobility is the key to countries’ success at the Olympics. Populations that are better informed and better connected to opportunities, “tend to win a higher share of Olympic medals”.
Sports are not the first choice as a career for most of our sportspersons. The large majority of probables drops out because of high risk, uncertainty, and low rewards in the field of sports, which needs to be taken care off. Unless the pool from which our elite sportspersons is drawn is significantly enlarged, we will not be able to get the best talent.
Sports do not offer secure job opportunities as well. At present, there is optional job reservation of up to five percent in the public sector for sportspersons. The ministry has proposed there should be at least three percent mandatory reservation for athletes. The ministry is also exploring the possibility of providing cashless medical cover to eminent sportspersons who have retired.
Assured Career Progression is one of the main reasons why young and promising sportspersons give up early in their careers. It is true that persons who excel at National and International levels do quite well in life but such persons are few in number and the risk taking capacity of the vast majority of sportspersons is very low.
We need to put in place long term strategies for identification and nurturing of talent and then put them through intensive programmes. Moreover, these long term programmes cannot be event specific but must aim at developing sports talent per se in larger numbers so that India has the bench strength necessary to compete with the best. Development of institutions which will focus on sports skills, coaching skills, sports medicine, associated skill sets like physiotherapy, recovery management, etc., are also necessary. There is a need to develop special sports schools, separate from mainstream schools, with greater emphasis on training and coaching support.
In the bid to make India a sporting nation, Government is trying to develop the entire sports eco-system including sports management, sports journalism, sports architecture, sports equipment manufacturing, etc. To prepare for the 2024 and 2028 Olympics, 1,000 athletes are being identified and financial support of Rs 5 lakh per athlete for eight years will be provided. The Emphasis is on sports science, sports medicine and highly-qualified sports staff.
The Government has started a flagship programme “Khelo India”, which aims to promote rural and indigenous/tribal games, emphasis on physical fitness of School going Children, promotion of sports among persons with disabilities and women. National school games can bring a paradigm shift in sports. Numerous schemes and organisations i.e. Nehru yuva Kendra, The Panchayat Yuva Krida aur Khel Abhiyan Scheme (PYKKA), District Level Sports Centres, Sports Authority of India, and various sports federations are trying to bring excellence in sports. Organisations like Indian Railways and ONGC, etc., are also nurturing talents and contributing substantially towards promotion of sports. However, there is greater need to bring all stake-holders together and ensure effective implementation and monitoring of various schemes and projects.
By virtue of its population alone, India can become the world’s biggest sporting nation. Sports as industry should be encouraged as part of economic activity. Huge investment is needed to build better infrastructure. The sporting sector can create employment and provide a sustainable national income while getting at least one third of its population engaged in sports.

(JP Pandey, IRPS, is Principal, Oak Grove School, Jharipani, Mussoorie.)