Can sports become the next big cultural phenomenon in India?
On this National Sports Day as India basks in the glory of its recent sporting landmarks, the onus is on sports administrators to inspire people to lace up and get on the bandwagon where sports can become a way of life.
Just as the world found itself racking its brains and mentally scrolling through personal vocabularies to start every day with an online word game called 'WORDLE' that had us all hooked, I too became a willing participant. So much so that every morning is incomplete if I am not beginning it with my steaming hot cup of coffee and a crack at the word of the day - the only catch being I inevitably start my guessing with one word - SPORT!
It may just be a 5-letter-word to some but there is little in the world that can parallel its power and benevolence, especially for me. Sport transcends all and has the flexibility to be used in such vast arrays that really can make huge differences.
Nelson Mandela famously said that "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. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. I laugh in the face of all types of discrimination."
For those of us in the Sports Development space, this has been our mantra - it has been about creating hope, uniting people, instilling the spirit, the adrenaline and the love for the game. For those of us who believe in the power of sport, nothing can resonate more.
In an Indian context, we have the largest population of youth in the world and Sport will be the defining factor in our pursuit of making it on the world stage. Sport can be that integral component which takes our country to the next level and if we are to assess the past couple of years itself, this phenomenon is already a work in progress and the results visit us in the form of India winning medals on the world stage consistently.
Sport is the single-stop shop for all things good. Whether you consider a healthy lifestyle or reduction of violence - sport has a huge role to play. In our country today, sport is slowly gaining momentum. The advent of social media has been the catalyst which has now propelled our athletes and various sports into various households.
Yet, the time has now come that we each lace up our sneakers and head to the arena. While most of the youth have had some level of exposure it is the onus of the administration to now make sport a cultural phenomenon and something that every citizen has access to.
A family that plays, plays, plays
In a personal context, I have been blessed to have been born into a sports-crazy family. While my deeply urban roots especially in Mumbai curtail access to sports, I come from a family that played, played, played! My grandparents met on a tennis court and eloped (for 1943 which was scandalous), my father and his siblings grew up tennis-obsessed and for us, every evening and holiday was spent playing!
While like every Indian household I was still forced to go to school and study, the focus on sport never wavered. I did end up studying and have a finance degree from an esteemed university but I have no qualms in admitting that I learnt way more on the tennis court than in any classroom.
My journey as a high-level athlete, representing the country at the Olympics and now my role as an administrator would not have been possible without the work ethic, integrity, character, discipline and values instilled in me by sport.
I have always said that Sport has given me everything I have and am proud to be a custodian of spreading some of the joys of sport - the feeling of it is unmatched. Another very important adage is that "Sport doesn't build character, it reveals it." So, aside from being a test for your athletic skills, sport finds a way to chip into your personality too and teach you so much - the court, the field, becomes a literal playground for you to learn from and stand up for who you are.
The bottom line is that sport is nothing but a metaphor for this journey called life. It has struggles, pain, tears, exhilaration, joy, happiness and any other emotions one can think of. Sport should be the backbone of every human and as a country, we really need to jump onto the sports bandwagon and enjoy the ride - it may be bumpy, it may be smooth, but it will be a roller coaster you won't want to miss out on. So, lace up your shoes and hop on!