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Post Rio 2016, 5 Ways We Can Fix The Sporting System In India

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By Suheil Tandon:

The Rio Olympics and Paralympics 2016 have come and gone, but despite the hype created in India, the state of Indian sports, especially at the grassroots and the youth level, will continue to languish unless some concrete steps are taken by different stakeholders to rectify the issues at hand. Various sections of the Indian society and a range of stakeholders have given suggestions for the future of Indian sports, not least the Prime Minister of India, who has set up a task force to prepare India for future Olympics. But very few have talked about developing sports from the bottom-up, focusing on the building blocks of creating Olympic champions – youth sport at the grassroots.

It isn’t all doom and gloom – there were some positives to come out of India’s campaign at Rio. There was an increase in the participation of female athletes from India, and their performance at the Games was stellar. Our two medals were both won by females, and it is the manner in which they were won that was so impressive – plenty of fight, grit, motivation and determination – similar attributes noticed in young girls playing sports across the country. The other group to perform brilliantly was the Indian Paralympic contingent. It managed to bag more medals than the Olympic contingent, despite the fact that they were a much smaller contingent and the amount of support and finances provided were comparatively much lower. It is important to note these points and include them in our future plans to create a holistic model of growth for sports in India.

Now that the dust has settled after the wave of emotions during the two-week window of Rio 2016, it is time to let go of such emotions and to rationally think about the practical steps to be implemented to change India’s sporting trajectory. Here are five pressing issues that I think need to be addressed, especially at the grassroots, for Indian sports to move forward.

1. Better Access To Sports

In a country with more than a billion people, there is no shortage of sporting talent, and I say this as someone who was worked with such talent first hand. But, unless this raw talent, most of which lies in rural India, especially in the tribal belts, is provided an opportunity to participate and practice sports, how will it develop and flourish? Why should we only have the choice of picking talent from metro and Tier-1 cities, when more may lie beyond these?

Youth in rural and remote regions of India need to be provided with sporting infrastructure, dedicated coaches as well as structured and professionally run programs to help them participate and excel in sports. Moreover, this access must be provided to marginalised sections of sporting society in India, including girls, persons with disabilities and SC/ST individuals, who are generally an afterthought in our sporting endeavors. Anantapur Sports Academy in rural Andhra Pradesh is a great example of how to approach this conundrum.

2. Better Training For Coaches And Physical Education Teachers In India

Coaches in India, especially those at the grassroots level, must be given better training and continuing professional development programs, to aid in their knowledge upgradation and delivery techniques. The training and knowledge of many Indian coaches and PE teachers is outdated and not up to the pace of the hugely advanced global coaching and sports teaching fields. Moreover, as grassroots coaches and PE teachers work with children, they require many other skills than just the knowledge of their sports, to be able to deliver age-appropriate and engaging programs.

3. Sports As Tools For Education

Sports and physical activity, in the form of Physical Education (PE), must be made a formal part of every schooling system, especially in government schools. PE provides all children with an opportunity to participate in and learn about sports, hence generating further interest. PE is the basic building block of mass participation in sports, without which the pool of sporting talent in India will always be shallow.

4. Talent Development Pathways, Not Just Talent Identification

We need to focus on building talent development pathways for our athletes, right from a young age to post retirement, starting from a basic PE program all the way to a lifelong involvement and participation in sports, even as a senior citizen. Talent identification is only one part of the puzzle – which also needs to be enhanced drastically – but mapping talent development pathways for different sports ensures that athletes, coaches and other stakeholders are aware of what is expected from them at every level.

5. Personal And Professional Development Support

Young athletes in India, who dedicate a large chunk of their childhood to sports, must be provided support in the form of quality education (not just enrolling in school or colleges, but providing support such as tutors), mentoring and career counselling as well as soft skill and language development. These are essential as they provide them with skills to pursue other professional fields, if they don’t succeed in sports (which amounts to a large proportion).

Speaking to a junior Indian shooter who had returned from Europe after a world championship, he said that the main difference between Indian and European shooters was in their mindset. For the Europeans, shooting is seen only as a sports, and they have other things to fall back on, in case they fail. However, for the Indian shooters, shooting was their life and they had nothing else to rely on, hence the enormous pressure don’t allow them to perform at their best.

Looking to the future, there are plenty of things that need to be addressed in Indian sports, starting at the top and going right to the bottom. These can only be addressed by a collaborative effort between the corporate, public and social sector, and by a range of stakeholders within these sectors. Most importantly, change can only take place through a sustained effort, and any future recommendations should be made based on a long-term plan – in my view a minimum of 12 years or 3 Olympics away – to see the impact they can bring. Any achievements on the global stage, in the meanwhile ,should be considered a bonus and must becredited to the athlete and their support staff, rather than the system.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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