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Opinion: Did India Perform To It’s True Potential In The Olympics?

The Tokyo Olympics for India had various ups and downs with mixed sentiments. India sent its biggest-ever Olympic contingent to Tokyo and optimists projected it would bring home a record of double-digit medals but it came home with  7. Despite India’s massive population of more than 1.2 billion people, India consistently fails to grab many medals at the Olympic Games. Tokyo was no exception. Let’s examine some reasons behind this

India’s haul at the Olympics is not proportional to its population.

As per the 2011 census, 21.9% of our population lives below the national poverty. As per the 2020 Global Hunger Index, India’s rank is 94th out of 107 countries where 14% of the Indian population is undernourished and you can’t expect a sportsperson from a person who even fights for food.

Indian Parents And Sports

The famous saying of “padhogay likhogay banogay nawab, khelogay kudogay banogay kharab (If you study you will become good if you spend your time playing you will become bad)” is somehow still prevalent. During the initial growing days, parents insist on physical activities and sports but a stage arrives when parents want their child to solely focus on status and see sports as a hindrance to academics.

By pushing children towards academics than other co-curricular including sports, sports fade into the background and just become a hobby where sports is seen as a health supplement rather than a skill to excel at. Indian parents don’t see a return on investment in sports as there isn’t any job security and why would a parent send his child to a field where career choices are few.

Rashmita Patra was an ardent Indian footballer, and now she is working at a Betel Shop. Asha Roy was the fastest athlete in India when she clocked 11.85 seconds and now she is a vegetable seller. Dinesh Kumar is Asian games silver medalist in boxing, who was given the Arjuna Award, is now selling kulfi for survival. Sita Sahu is a double Special Olympics medalist for India is now forced to sell goll gappas to make a living. So why would parents send their children to sports when they aren’t assured of a stable future even if they excel in the sport?

Sports Infrastructure In India

Have you ever thought about why Gully cricket is amongst the most famous sport in India? The answer is the dearth of sports infrastructure where you don’t have ample sports facilities and playgrounds but can’t stop children’s urge to play. The lack of infrastructural facilities is one of the major constraints in the process of the development of sports in India. With a lack of resources, little is left for sports allocation.

Sports only contribute 0.1% share of our GDP, while globally the industry is sized at around 0.5% of GDP share. Thus, there is a failure to provide basic infrastructure and this inadequate sports facility creates a divide between the rich and poor which excludes poor talented sports enthusiasts because of their financial circumstances.

Tokyo Olympics offered 339 gold medals and the 3 most rewarding sports are Aquatics, Athletics, and cycling with 49, 48, and 22 gold medals respectively and the status of the infrastructure of these sports is miserable. Furthermore, participation is quite negligible in these sports. Tokyo Olympics has 33 sports in total where Indian participation was in only 20. We are not competing in 33% of sports.

Lacunas In The System

We have witnessed several incidents where an athlete is forced to take low-paying jobs as we lack a proper sports policy and this leaves only a few options with the athletes and makes parents hesitant to send their children to the field of sports. Lack of Govt support is a prime hurdle regardless of social stigma.

Abinav Bindra, Olympic Gold Medalist, in his autobiography “A Shot At History” says all government support is directed towards the elite athletes. That leads to struggling young talents being denied rightful support. “The biggest missing link in sports in our country is the lack of a strong support at the base when the kids are starting,” – says Bindra. This was agreed by the then Sports Minister of India Ajay Maken. India undoubtedly fails their athletes by the lack of subsidized training, facilities, and gear at the right time.

Sania Mirza withdrew from the 2008 Bangalore open due to conservative backlash about female tennis outfits.

Corruption and scandals within the Indian Sports Federation are a nightmare. The 2010 Commonwealth games exposed it beautifully where Indian players were forced to play with partners they didn’t want to. 13 Arjuna Award winners along with 25 other athletes reported corrupt practices of the sports bodies that control the infrastructure. Many openly stated they were threatened since they asked for monetary support. Many athletes and coaches have complained that India’s chief medical officer at Rio Olympics had a standard response to most complaints of injuries; a dose of Combiflam. He is a radiologist and son of the vice-president of the Indian Olympic Association.

Sports And Society

The culture of India preaches that people who earn out of physical activities are low grade while the white collars are considered professional and elite. The situation is much worse for women. Sania Mirza withdrew from the Bangalore Open in 2008 since conservative torch bearers screamed that a female Muslim is “exposing” her body with unacceptable attire. Since then, there have been no WTA events sanctioned in India. End of a dream.

At a society level, sports have not been considered as a secure career, except for a few. With the majority of the population consisting of the poor and the middle class, economic aspirations are high. As a result, either the stress is to excel academically or to start earning. This restricts participation in sports.

There is an urgent requirement to fill these gaps while creating a robust sports policy, increasing sports experience, creating sports training centers at all levels – national, provincial, city, and county sports schools, and creating a sports culture within Indian society with more accountability, transparency, and penalties at every level of the federation to combat the malpractice. Above all, we have certain lessons to learn from IPL.

If a sport is commercialized, it identifies more talents and brings them to the spotlight. It generates more revenue for the govt, the federation, and the country in general. We can learn from Haryana which has maximum participation for India in the Tokyo Olympics. Haryana has quite an encouraging sports policy and culture, and as a result, cities like Bhiwani (mini Cuba of India) and Jhajjar (wrestling cradle) are developing as a hub for boxing and wrestling respectively.

The writer is a student of the faculty of the law university of Delhi.

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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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