WE HUMAN BEINGS HAVE been endowed with a highly advanced and sophisticated machinery in the human body. It is our responsibility to maintain this body in good shape and ensure that it remains healthy during its lifetime. To achieve this, we have to ensure that food, rest, and exercise are optimally available to the body. And the best way to ensure this is to regularly play some sports. That would ensure that we have some disciplining of the body. Engaging in sports regularly also ensures that there is a healthy psychological development in a person. It is not for nothing that ‘sportsmanship’ is considered a sterling quality in a person.
The need for and importance of sports cannot be overemphasised. Every society and every nation should encourage the playing of sports by all, especially the children and the youth. Sports help one attain good fitness, increase the self-esteem, develop one’s leadership skills, inculcate positive values, improve emotional health, make one more sociable, increase the level of discipline in a person, help improve concentration and consequently improve one’s academic performance, improve teamwork and cooperation, help one to manage time efficiently, develop an attitude of success, increase patience and perseverance, improve sleep, and in general develop life-long good habits. Thus, sports should be a vital part of every individual’s life.
In an age of pluralism in everything it is necessary that there be pluralism in sports.
This discussion, however, is not about the importance of sports, as that is well established. Since the government plays a pivotal role in the cultivation of various sports, it is pertinent and urgent that India starts focussing on a number of sports at the school, college, and social levels. For various reasons, cricket has become practically the only sport that occupies the attention of the present-day Indian mind. While some regions have affinities to some different sports like football or soccer, Indians are mostly enamoured with cricket. This has overshadowed the present and future of many other sports like hockey, in which India excelled some decades ago.
The government of India needs to have a comprehensive and holistic policy on sports. Every sport has some unique features and involves excellence in some aspects of the human body. A hundred-metre athlete is usually not suited for a marathon, because both the events require different skills. While a game of basketball requires much running and coordination, a game of cricket might not comparatively require so much in those aspects, but requires many other skills. More importantly, not everyone is suited for the same game, for instance, cricket, and everyone will not like playing the same sport.
The problem is worsened by the government approving schools and colleges that do not even have a playground. The pupils are told over and again to concentrate only on studies and not on any other thing. When the students return to their homes, they do not go out to play, but glue themselves to their computers, smartphones, or any of those numerous devices that have now turned us into couch-potatoes with potbellies!
Even in the case of schools and colleges that have playground, most do not have proper equipment for playing a sport. If a student wants to play basketball, there is usually not a basketball court or a basketball. A hockey enthusiast, rare as they come these days, does not get to lay one’s hands on a decent hockey stick. And the less said is better about those who want to develop their interest in archery, discus throw, javelin throw, or any other sport that has no media attention.
Cricket, on the other hand, is the sport that is played everywhere right from the underdeveloped localities to posh residential neighbourhoods. The poor have makeshift gear for this sport whereas the affluent have multiple alternatives to choose from when it comes to cricket gear.
The average Indian child or youth does not have any idea about many sports like rifle shooting and golf. Most Indians do not spend any time on playing any sport. In view of the fact that India is the global capital of the dreaded lifestyle disease that is diabetes, the development of sports in society assumes paramount significance. Too much focus on a particular sport also leads to the near extinction of indigenous sports. In the Indian context, some such indigenous sports are kabaddi, kho-kho, and mallkhambha. It is necessary that we preserve the traditional sports in order to preserve the heritage of a nation or society. For instance, the martial art kalaripayattu or the Indian art of stick-fighting, do not have many teachers or students today.
In an age of pluralism in everything—in beliefs, technologies, literary styles, and even in cuisines—it is necessary that there be pluralism in sports. Why cannot a girl from a lower-middle class household aspire to be a world-class golf player? Why cannot a boy living in a rustic village in the foothills of Himalayas in India not aim to be a lawn tennis player? Unfortunately, the dynamics of social stratification have crept into sports, particularly in India. Some sports have all the sponsors and funding, whereas many other sports have no support whatsoever.
When is the last time anyone heard of a public frenzy over the sports of swimming in India? A lopsided effort in the field of sports has resulted in poor Indian representation in different events of international sporting like the Olympics. Swami Vivekananda emphasised the need for keeping one’s body strong and active. He also wanted that Indians preserve their cultural heritage. Both of these can be done easily by promoting the indigenous sports of India. Indians should not be satisfied with introducing such indigenous sports in some international events, like the introduction of kabaddi. Indians should instead try to popularise various Indian sports among other nations and cultures, much like cricket has been popularised even in nations that did not know this sport till some decades ago.
Sports should exercise all parts of the body. Some sports give more exercise to some parts of the body, while some others exercise the other parts. By encouraging different kinds of sports and promoting them, Indians can ensure that every citizen gets access to playing and learning any sport of one’s choice, much like one gets a choice of various dishes in a restaurant. Everyone should be trained in at least five different sports and everyone should have the resources to be a professional player of any sport of one’s choice. If this is not done immediately, many sports would soon become extinct and we would have to remain content with annual seasons of some select sports like cricket, baseball, or soccer. Just like there is much choice in other aspects of human life, there should be many alternatives in sports. We need to strive hard to make this possibility a reality.