- Krishna Pophale, Independent Journalist
Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid out clearly before the nation that his approach to development included sports and fitness. Image: https://www.facebook.com/narendramodi
The five years of Narendra Modi government have been special for sports persons, fans and enthusiasts. This period has seen a quantum change in government’s approach towards sports. Under the visionary leadership of the Prime Minister, we are now not only looking at sports in terms of events, medals or matches but also in terms of fitness, overall development and national integration.
The winds of change first became visible when Prime Minister Modi brought focus on youth, exercise and sports in his regular address to the nation. He laid out clearly before the nation that his approach to development included sports and fitness. He further turned the spotlight on sports by appointing an accomplished sportsperson as the sports minister for the first time in India. Col Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore (retd) had shot to fame after winning silver medal in double trap shooting at Athens Olympics in 2004. With a sportsperson at the helm of the ministry, things began to change quickly.
A big fillip for sports came with the Khelo India Scheme. This scheme took a multi-pronged approach to promote sports in the country taking into consideration the lack of basic ecosystems and support structures for aspiring sportspersons. Under Khelo India, government now provides funds to every panchayat to develop a sports field with facilities like drinking water, green fencing, toilets etc. The geo-tagging of these playfields also ensures that assets are delivered on ground and the creation of sports infrastructure on a GIS platform.
Under this scheme, the Union government is also providing technical and financial support to state-level Khelo India Centres to ensure their optimum utilisation. It is often seen that states have sports infrastructure but it is in bad shape due to non-utilization of these infrastructure.
National level competitions have been conducted under this scheme. Khelo India National School Games were launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year and this year the second edition of Khelo India National School Games was held in Pune. These events were broadcast on STAR network, further providing impetus to the competitors. Never before have the school games been broadcast live in India.
Under Khelo India, government has also started talent search and development to identify sporting talent. The selection is done by high-powered committee of experts, to ensure transparency and objectivity. Under this scheme 1000 sporting talents will be identified every year in 10 priority sports disciplines to be supported for a period of eight years. They would be given a stipend of Rs 5 lakh per year. In 2018, the committee cleared names of 734 players for this scholarship. This scheme is bound to create an organic system to groom, support and enhance the talent pool for sports.
It is also seen that the sporting infrastructure at universities is underutilized. Under Khelo India, the government will put these facilities to use for the benefit of athletes and also provide funds to create and upgrade sports infrastructure in universities.
The government is also now extending support to existing national/regional/state sports academies, including private ones. This is gradually creating a pan-India network of national academies where identified sporting talent can be nurtured. It is perhaps for the first time that government has also taken into consideration private academies that host a significant segment of sportspersons.
Physical fitness is an important criterion to excel in sports. Unfortunately, it is largely ignored in India across age groups, and more so among schoolchildren. To plug this, the government has launched a program under Khelo India to measure the physical fitness levels of all school going children, collect data, analyze it and derive empirical evidence to reinforce the role of sports as a contributor to health.
A standard physical fitness enhancement protocol will be evolved for different age groups and different levels of fitness and would be implemented and followed throughout the country which would not only be applicable for sportspersons but also the coaches supported under the scheme.
Focus on segments
What makes Khelo India more than just another scheme is the fact that it takes no shortcuts. It goes all out to achieve the best without leaving anyone behind.
One objectives of Khelo India, for example, is to improve participation of women in sports. Under this scheme, exclusive sports competitions for women will be held.
Similarly, under this scheme, sports is also being promoted among people with disabilities. For this, efforts are being made to ensure that all sports infrastructure is barrier free.
Under Khelo India, the government is also promoting rural and indigenous/tribal games. The government is creating an online resource by way of an interactive website to disseminate information about rural and indigenous/tribal games of the country. It also plans to conduct annual competitions for rural games and indigenous/tribal games alternately to encourage participation of children and youth in these games.
From playfield to classroom
For the first time in India, a National Sports University has been established in Manipur, which along with rest of the north-eastern states has given a lion’s share of athletes to India. This specialized university will promote sports education in the areas of sports sciences, sports technology, sports management and sports coaching, besides functioning as the national training centre for select sports disciplines by adopting the best international practices.
Similarly, to support high level research, education and innovation to enhance performance of elite athletes, for the first time, the ministry has provided support in setting up Sports Science Departments in six universities and Sports Medicine Departments in four Medical Colleges located in different parts of the country.
Sports Science courses such as M.Sc in Sports Physiology, Bio-Mechanics, Sports Psychology, Training Methods, Sports Nutrition, Bio-Chemistry and Physiotherapy have also been started in six Universities. This will provide qualified and trained personnel in the field of sports science and help in considerably improving the performance of Indian sportspersons in international sports.
With these steps, Modi government has laid down an exhaustive system to tap into India’s talent pool. What is even more important that this sports revolution does not restrict itself to increasing medal tallies but aims at making sports a part and parcel of ever Indian’s life.