By Ira Sahai
The Indian contingent recently concluded Asian Games in Jakarta. The event was full of surprises and stories of grit and determination. Whether it was Swapna Barman, who won the gold in Women’s heptathlon despite severely limiting physical issues, or Manjit Singh who raced for a gold medal in 800 meters – they all achieved the near impossible with remarkable élan.
If you look hard enough into their lives, both of them, and many other participating athletes come from challenging backgrounds and have still managed to overcome their circumstances to bring glory to the nation. They have also managed to inspire the whole generation to look at sports seriously – not only as a medium of expression but also as a career option. But like any other story, even their story is full of ups and downs, and the only reason they managed the feat was due to sheer perseverance.
In a country where the sight of children going to school is ubiquitous whether you are in a metropolis or a small village, what is equally not surprising is the sight of children working at numerous places – from dhabas to cleaning cars, working at small shops, to even being wastepickers or begging on the streets. Does this mean that Right to Education Act of 2009, which mandates free and compulsory education for children between the ages of 6 and 14 has failed? The answer is a resounding NO. But, we have a lot more to achieve before we can label the effort as successful, at best it’s a work-in-progress, a step in the right direction.
Coming from this challenging scenario where even basic classroom education is hard to achieve; how will we bring focus on sports beyond cricket? It’s challenging to make sports a career choice in India for children even from the privileged background let alone the children from an impoverished one. But then, why is sports so life-changing?
If you have participated in any sport, you would know it requires hours and hours of constant practice in rain or sunshine. It requires to you keep practising even if you won the last round or the game – because you are only as good as your last victory. It also gives children a chance to interact with other children, build skills of being a team member and handling failure. Now, isn’t this a life lesson worth pursuing?
Further, studies have shown that when children play sports, it keeps them away from possible drug abuse and addiction in future, and help them build leadership skills, team spirit, social skills and physical capacity for life. Also, for children suffering from attention disorder or general disregard for social structure – individual sports like swimming, tennis or sometimes even martial arts, could be a great way of not only building capacity but to bring stability in their lives.
We have noticed that if kids can be provided with a safe space to study, play and practice with the right guidance, irrespective of their economic or social background any child can rise above social barriers and bring glory not only to the sports but sometimes even to the country. So, next time when you see kids playing, even if it is in your neighbourhood street and blocking your way, give them their space and let them be.
Ira works as the Head of Programmes for Resource Mobilisation at Chintan.