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Schools and universities should form the bedrock to sporting talent across India

Schools and universities should form the bedrock to sporting talent across India

Imtiaz Azad

Published: 7 April 2019 6:33 AM GMT
We pursue studies to grow our knowledge and give examinations to keep the brain active, but we have to understand, the mind is not the only thing which needs exercising. We need good health as well for which sports is necessary. We constantly train to make sure our minds are functioning to the best possible extent and contributing to the society in the best way they can. In this obsession with the mind, we tend to forget that our bodies deserve equal attention. The sports enthusiast in us, lose the battle owing to family pressure and unable to strike the right balance. Balance is the key word here, since in India harmonising education and sports is a difficult task. There is a prevalent notion in the country that all students must pursue a professional degree and eventually find a job in the "conventional" fields of engineering, medicine, and software, among others. Because of this mindset, an abundance of opportunities go untapped and the ,majority of the youth misses out on the career in sports. India’s performance in the global sporting stage has not been talked much. Apart from a few standout moments, the country's record has remained dismal. We started as heroes of international hockey but today, all the glory has gone in the annals of history. So far in the Olympics, India has won just a single individual gold medal which came from Abhinav Bindra. To counter our failure, we delve ever so often on our cricketing achievements. The reason remains to be a weak foundation. For long, our colleges, which should be the bedrock of sports, has remained to be a huge embarrassment. The tragic reality is that young students pursuing sports are not much encouraged. From parents to our teachers, they keep favouring students who are more interested in pursuing education and go for professions like engineering and medicine. Sports in India is majorly considered a secondary option. Empty playgrounds in colleges and universities bear testimony to the general alienation among the youth to any kind of sporting activity. Many of those who do take sports seriously in schools and colleges, do so for certificates they can use for various concessions under the sports quota. The education sector should play a crucial role in promoting sports in India. Sports in education not only builds physical stamina but also instils qualities such as obedience, determination, willpower, and discipline.

To take the US as the classic example, historically, certain colleges and universities have produced an excessive number of Olympic medalists. Schools with comprehensive athletic programmes, state-of-the-art training facilities, and world-class coaches naturally attract budding Olympic athletes.

The University of Southern California (USC) has been the most powerful US university in the history of Olympics. If the school was an independent country, its 288 medal haul would rank 16th all-time in the world. USC is particularly strong in events like swimming and track and field. To put into perspective, a USC athlete has earned at least one gold medal in every Summer Olympics since the 1912 Stockholm games. The number of Olympic medals won by students or alumni of American universities—not necessarily representing the United States—in Olympics went up in the 2016 Games. Notable examples include Michael Phelps of the University of Michigan, Katie Ledecky of Stanford University, and Missy Franklin of UC Berkeley.

Global Sporting Excellence Remain A Distant Goal

Indians have the habit to unanimously declare that the country has arrived on the world stage every time India does well at a multi-sport event. With just two medals at the Rio Games, India remained behind solitary-gold winners like Azerbaijan, Slovenia, Ivory Coast and Fiji. Every other leading countries in sports plans for an increased number of medals from their previous Olympics outing. Britain, for instance, won just a solitary gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but 27 at the 2016 Rio Olympics, just behind the US. At a time when the Centre is stressing on making sports an integral part of student life, universities across different states in India lack even the basic infrastructure for players. A weary set of nets to practice cricket or probably a football ground -- these are only facilities that are available across numerous state universities.

The Union Budget for 2018-19 provided Rs 2196.35 crore for sports, out of which Rs 520.09 crore went to Khelo India, the government’s flagship programme to unearth talent.

After two back-to-back years of Khelo India, how far has it succeeded to achieve its pre-determined goal? The status of the programme remains to be merely an inter-state invitational competition. To fully able to reach its potential, the programme should delve into the inter-school, inter-university competitions by merging the School Games Federation of India and All India Universities competitions. How much of a success is Khelo India School Games? (Photo: Khelo India) The step would invariably make the schools, colleges and universities equal partners in the programme, thereby fuel their interest to invest in sports infrastructure and development of players. Schools and varsities with better infrastructure and good coaches can mould a promising athlete to an international medallist. Another area Khelo India programme needs to focus is at the grassroots coaching. It is the individual coaches who go out and identify talent in India and nurture them at the grassroots level with minimal infrastructural support. In best sporting nations likes the US or Australia, they form the backbone of the system. In the current Khelo India setup, these future of these coaches are left in the dark when their top athletes are sent to train at other academies. There, they may or may not get similar attention that they were getting at their own centres. The government needs to concentrate on creating infrastructure and training facilities in educational institutes so that enough trained physiotherapists, coaches, groundsmen and sports administrators are produced to cater to the boom which appears around the corner. There is also a need for providing adequate foreign exposure to our front-line sportspersons who can learn from the best in the industry and incorporate the same to revamp the Indian sporting ecosystem.
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