The arena of sports comes as a very energetic, enthusiastic and positive one! The importance of sports is multi-faceted, contributing to good health and fitness, entertainment, revenue generation, etc. Sports not only require physical fitness, but also efficient strategy and a calm mind. The spirit of sports also ensures an emotional connect that develops between the player and the sport, or between the members of a team, or even between sportsmen and their fans. India has a particularly strong emotional bond with sports, which resides in the heart of the nation.
On the global platform, sports has been recognised as an area that has the potential of promoting peace and friendship amongst nations. Therefore, global events like the Olympics, Common Wealth Games, Asian Games, etc. have been enunciated to facilitate harmony around the world, and to also provide sportsmen with global exposure and opportunities. Sports in India has a long history, with some popular games like chess, snooker, kabaddi, archery, etc. having emerged here. However, our achievements and medals in the international competitions have not been great in the past, which was a reflection of the broad and fundamental problems that sports and sportsmen alike have faced in India for years.
To begin with, young sportsmen around distant parts of the country have suffered due to infrastructural shortcomings. Be it the lack of funds or corruption and improper administration at the local levels, several talented young men from humble backgrounds couldn’t receive proper guidance, coaching, food, equipments, training centres, etc., amenities that were available in a limited manner in big cities. This is because sports did not receive adequate attention in the early decades after independence. The Department of Sports was set up only during the 1982 Asian Games held in New Delhi. It was renamed the Department of Youth Affairs and Sports in 1985. The Department attained the status of a separate Ministry as late as in May, 2000. Owing to this neglect, India’s tally of medals in the Olympics till date is a shameful total of 28, with 9 Gold, 7 Silver and 12 Bronze.
To a great extent, the only sport in India that has made a concrete place in the drawing rooms of all households is cricket. The most popular sport in India, it has been commercialized lately with the Indian Premiere League (IPL) and such other series, making its players, celebrities. While certainly India is good at cricket, the undistributed attention and support that cricket receives is greatly to the exclusion of other sports, including our national sport, hockey. Another problem area in the field of sports has been with regard to the gender imbalance. For a long time, it was considered disrespectful and inappropriate for girls to play sports. This mentality has had its repercussions visible in the negligible presence of women in sports.
However, the brighter part is that the scenario is changing. Of late, there has been a lot of observable improvement in the popularity of diverse sports in India. The Indian Super League (for Football), Pro Kabaddi League, Hockey India League, etc. have been made with strategies aimed at attracting audiences, and have worked considerably well. Even with regard to gender disparity, factors like awareness programmes, government support, the feminist movement, have resulted in a changed outlook and greater participation, particularly from the states of Haryana, Punjab and the North-Eastern states. Today, names like Mary Kom, P.V. Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Mithali Raj, and many more, are known well to all of us.
The government has also been extending greater support to the roots, with policy measures like Khelo India School Games (KISG), a national-level multidisciplinary grassroot Games initiated by PM Narendra Modi in January, 2018. The government intends to improve the global position of India in Sports, and therefore gives 1000 best kids an annual scholarship of INR 5,00,000 for 8 years to prepare them for international sporting events. Moves like the Training of Trainers (TOT), provision of better infrastructure in local areas, etc. clearly demonstrate the efforts that the authorities are making to improve the quality of Sports in India. We have a long way to go, but I am sure we are heading forward in the right direction.
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