Sports as a means for social upliftment and poverty alleviation

As the Indian campaign at the Tokyo Olympic games march forward, we are excited about the prospects of our sporting stars putting in their best efforts to bring glory to our nation. We have had a mixed campaign so far with Saikhom Mirabai Chanu’s performance shining brightest. Her silver medal on the first day itself was a perfect start for us.

The Indian badminton doubles duo of Satwik Sai Raj and Chirag Shetty beating the world no. 3 pair in the nail-biting first round match and PV Sindhu’s authoritative first round victory, Manika Batra’s phenomenal comeback to win her second-round match in table tennis, boxer MC Mary Kom inching forward to claim her rightful place and Bhavani Devi, our fencer, moving into the second round were moments worth cherishing for the billion-plus Indians.

And, to add to that, Assam’s very own Lovlina Borgohain storming into the quarterfinals in boxing, is a big high for the region. Interestingly, Lovlina needs to win her next match to ensure India a medal.

It is not easy to keep one’s nerves under control under the excessive pressure for performance in these games and so we come across setbacks by star performers despite holding world records in their respective events. We have had our shooters going through such an ordeal. We also had Sajan Prakash losing out by a whisker on the opportunity to qualify into the finals of the 200m butterfly event.

Performance at the Olympics is a different ball game altogether as nations pin their hope and aspirations on the athletes to raise the worth of their people in the world arena. These athletes are like the soldiers on the frontline in a war. As the world has moved towards peaceful coexistence emerging from the ravages of wars in the past centuries, battles fought in the sporting arena within the framework of strict rules has gained greater importance for establishing a nation’s footprint among the league of nations.

Towards that direction, the Olympic movement has to a great extent achieved its objective of ushering world peace through sporting excellence.

Under these circumstances, the medal winning performance of our athletes gain significance to enhance our national pride. The story of Mirabai Chanu is of special significance as it also has a social angle attached to it. Mirabai belongs to the Chanu clan of a remote village of Manipur, very close to the border with Myanmar. Youngest of six siblings, Mirabai and her family have a very modest background. Sports became a saviour for the entire family when Mirabai was selected by SAI under recommendation by the weightlifting federation as a prospective medallist in international events. She was later recruited by Northeast Frontier Railway for sporting excellence. And today, after her latest feat at the Olympics with the kind of recognition and rewards that she is likely to receive, India has uplifted a family and a community from extreme social backwardness and poverty.

Among all the Northeast states, Manipur is a front-runner in sporting excellence with stars like Thoiba Singh, Kunjarani Devi, Mary Kom and now Mirabai Chanu making it big in the sporting world.

Manipur’s involvement in sports is all pervasive. We find many coaches, referees, sports officials from Manipur offering their services in the development of sports in the country.

I as a child was benefited by valuable coaching insights and inputs from some of the excellent Manipuri coaches like RK Nabachandra Singh and RK Sanahal Singh.

Manipur is also a state which has a rich cultural tradition but is trying to cope with poverty, social backwardness and unrest. Like Manipur, there are many other states and provinces and areas in our country which are reeling under extreme poverty and social backwardness.

All these makes a clear case of argument that sports can act as a great tool for poverty alleviation and for uplifting the entire nation from social backwardness and at the same time elevating our national pride.

Sports is expensive. It is very difficult for a normal middle-class family to commit the amount of time, energy and resources necessary for sports which has almost no return on investment if one cannot break into the top league.

And there are multiple variables involved which makes a career in sports very uncertain. Various aspects of development of the human faculties need to be addressed to excel in sports.

Extensive researches are being carried out to find out ways to optimize the potential of the human body and of the human mind. Hence, performance at the Olympics is largely governed by the incorporation of sports science into the coaching programmes.

The various aspects of sports science being sports physiology, exercise science, biomechanics, nutrition, psychology, mental toughness and physiotherapy.

Today there are experts available who are professionally offering these services. Many top universities are offering degrees in sports science.

Presently, Olympic sports in India and the various schemes are being funded by the central government through the Sports Authority of India (SAI) under the Union ministry of youth affairs and sports.

But the government, many a time, is constrained by limited budget for sports. Hence, it is very important that the corporate houses participate in this noble mission through their hugely untapped CSR fund. The government may mandate the utilization of the CSR fund in full by each corporate house and a major chunk of the fund may be committed for the development of sports in the country.

Needless to say, such an act has the potential for catapulting India into a top sporting nation something we have always discussed about but yet to take any major concrete action.

About Dipankar Bhattacharjee

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The author is a two-time Olympian and multiple national-level badminton championship winner from Assam

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