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Fitness Challenge or marketing gimmick: Will "Hum Fit" truly make India Fit?

Fitness Challenge or marketing gimmick: Will Hum Fit truly make India Fit?
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Published: 25 May 2018 1:29 PM GMT
"Hum Fit, toh India Fit," said Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in a Twitter video 3 days back. In a quintessential 21st century trend on social media, a challenge ensued as the purpose of the entire exercise was to encourage people to "stay fit". What one had to do was simple- just put up a picture of themselves to let the world know how they prefer to keep fit. If they were feeling adventurous, all they had to do was go forth and tag three other people for this "Fitness Challenge" who would then carry on and keep the chain unbroken. What a wondrous world we live in. A utopian society indeed where all it takes to make a country fit and get it up on its feet is a social media challenge. A 30-second video of themselves in their fitness regime and voila, there's your Fit India. All troubles gone, all problems solved, India is a sporting nation. Everybody will henceforth know us as a superpower when it comes to sports. Physical afflictions like obesity, low energy- it'll all be gone. https://twitter.com/Ra_THORe/status/998800601243881472 Alas, if only that were true.
The sad part about this so called Fitness challenge is that it will eventually change nothing.
Typical of all ruling parties, this is yet another gimmick to distract us naive watchers from issues more real and deep seated than we could ever imagine them to be. But to give credit where credit is due, this is certainly among the better and more innovative gimmicks we have seen in a long time. Even if it does not achieve anything else, it gave us a treasure trove of videos of our Ministers working out. Going out of the way to break the stereo-typically lazy Indian "neta" images, our esteemed politicians huffed and puffed their way through numerous videos as they seemingly encouraged others to make similarly short and intense clips.
Perhaps if a little less time was spent on the appearance of seeming fit and a little more on actually tackling the very real problems at hand, that would put us on the path to the development that has long been promised to us. While what this campaign effectively does is provide some semblance of encouragement to their blind followers, the question then arises, how much? Remember, we are still one of the leading countries when it comes to obesity. We may have a reputation of being the exotic Orient which gave the gift of Yoga to the World but urbanisation has somewhat made us lose the battle with fitness. Capitalism, the widening gap between the rich and poor, trickle down economics may have ensured a comfortable lifestyle for the Indian living in the city but a gradual improvement in our economic status and the entrance of modern technology has made us stagnant. But you see, this is what makes the Fitness Challenge all the more impressive. Under the garb of doing something good, of spreading some much needed positive awareness what it actually does is kill two birds with one stone. It harms no one and yet, it steers the conversation to unimportant waters. For a very long time, sports and fitness has not been at the centre of attention for most governments. People did imagine that would change when the revolutionary step of putting an athlete in charge of things was taken and, to the common man, Rajyavardhan Rathore has indeed done good. Ask any of his fans what his contribution to modern day sports development in India has been and they will all point towards the success of Khelo India and how this year's budget saw an overwhelming increase in the amount allocated to the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports.

But is it so?

- One would also do well to remember that the differences between the National School Games and the Khelo India School Games remain shady at best which makes it difficult to establish the point of the scheme in the first place. Moreover, far from encouraging sports at the grassroot level, the Khelo India school games picked its state participants with the help of National Sports Federations and the School Games Federation of India. So how exactly has this mission of Fit India reached the masses? The actual grassroots that may not already be enrolled in elite programs?
- The increase in the Sports budget has mainly been the increase of money put aside for the Khelo India Scheme and the money allocated to the National Sports Federations. The grants for Sports Authority of India in this year's budget received a massive cutback and one has still not been able to account for a good enough reason for it. So far, neither the grassroot nor the elite program seems to be adequately supported by any sort of structure.
- The less said about the state of Para Sports in India the better. Para-athletes, it may be argued, have been far more consistent than their able bodied counterparts yet they warranted for no money in the budget. Khelo India para-games were announced soon after but unless a first edition for that is seen possibly in 2019, the intent remains restricted to words without translating into action.
- India still doesn’t have an updates National Sports Policy Document although a draft policy document is rumored to be under finalization and is scheduled to be tabled in the Lok Sabha in the second half of 2018. This has been the state of things for quite some time now.
- In-fighting and political battles within Federations continue. Even if an athlete is lucky enough, privileged enough to fight the system enough to get a chance to represent his country, chances are that he will be at the mercy of the Federations that govern their sport. For more explanation, we need only turn to the sad state of affairs underway at the Delhi and District Cricket Associations and the current elections which are slowly proving to be even more murky than the way things are carried out under Arun Jaitley.
- According to the most recent Annual Corporate Social Responsibility Tracker
report by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Center of Excellence for Sustainable Development, a mere Rs 57 crore out of Rs 8,185 crore was spent on sports development by the corporate sector for the financial years 2015-16. For all the farcical development that money-driven leagues in Football, cricket, kabaddi and wrestling claim to bring as a result of corporate backing, there is still a lack of structure. Merely pointing to a couple of Commonwealth medals does not do us any good when Indians have proven to be quite ill-prepared at major world level tourneys.
- Doping still remains an issue. Still. In the latest WADA report dating back to 2016, the number of cases in India ranks sixth in the world- at par with Russia. Isn't this a worrisome sign? And we seem to be associated with suspicions of doping even in cases where there have been no wrongs committed- just due to administrative failure. It happened during the Olympics; it happened again during the Commonwealth Games.

"Research by Statista indicates that about 10% of India exercises less than one hour per week. Another study by Puma last month indicated that 57% of India hasn’t played a sport even once in the last 12 months. Overall, less than 2% of India participates in Sports."

Will a 30-second video change all of that? Age old proverbs tell us that a spark is enough to start a fire and turn into raging flames. If we are to be optimistic, maybe Rathore's Fitness Challenge is that spark. Maybe, the scores of Indians scrambling to be a part of a social media trend might have epiphanic introductions to healthy lifestyle over the course of creating a single video. But then what? Even if the younger India is encouraged to be more fit, to even pursue sports, isn't the road ahead too damaged? How exactly does Rajyavardhan Rathore and his ilk plan on tackling that? Let's hope the remainder of Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore's term as sports minister is enough to provide sufficient answers to these questions.
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