The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2009) enacted by the Parliament of India while making (elementary) education a fundamental right to every child between the age of six and fourteen, laid emphasis on the importance of quality physical education and sports for an all-round development of a child. The Act also directed the schools to provide children with access to playgrounds and recreational facilities. This could be a significant step towards integrating sports and physical activities into school curricula, if the ambitious policy is implemented in both letter and spirit. Despite significant positive effects on the social, mental, physical and intellectual health of an individual, sport/physical activity, by and large, remains at the bottom of the priority list of both, policy makers and school/collage curriculum.
According to the 2014 National Youth Policy document, India’s per capita expenditure on youth is about INR 2,710 of which INR 1,100 is made towards targeted spending and the remaining INR 1,610 towards non-targeted spending. Of the targeted expenditure, more than 80% of the funds are allocated towards education, primarily, in the form of grants to various government schools and universities as well as direct cash benefits to students in form of scholarships and fellowships, for both secondary and higher education. The remaining 20% incurs on expending related to skill development, employment, health and engagement. Food subsidies, employment programmes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, health programmes related to infrastructure development, disease control, and family welfare constitute a significant share of non-targeted expenditure.
Education, health and healthy lifestyle, employability and skill development, promotion of social values, community engagement, inclusion, substance abuse, and gender and social justice are broadly the issues concerning the youth. Sports imparts ‘soft-skills’ such as teamwork, rule-based behavior, (self) discipline, fair play, tolerance, problem-solving abilities and so on, which are often required in dealing with real-life situations. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to say Sports for Development and Peace (SDP) initiatives, which function on the scheme of activity-based learning, could potentially contribute in addressing each one of the mentioned issues.
Also, in the context of India, which envisions “to empower the youth of the country to achieve their full potential, and through them enable India to find its rightful place in the community of nations,” SDP initiatives are an efficient and cost-effective tool at our disposal.
Vocational training received through academic channels is required for better job prospects. However, they could not be sustained without learning non-technical skills, such as life, behavioural and other similar skills. Also, not all learning happens inside the four walls of a classroom. In this light, sports/physical activity assumes significant function. Qualities like cooperation, tolerance, morality, discipline, respect and coping skills are easily and naturally learnt in a sport-field.
These are necessary lessons the youth requires to be able to achieve tangible and sustained outcomes at different stages of life. Also, what could be a better place to inculcate team spirit while being competitive at the same time than a sports-field?
SDP initiatives are executed at the most basic level of a society and works toward building capacity of the same. It is in this positive and non-threatening environment that small issues of daily life as well as deep rooted challenges of our societies are addressed. If one learns to not discriminate against a fellow being on the field, the likelihood the person would resort to discriminatory practices off the field lessens considerably. In tribal areas of eastern India, moving a step ahead, children have been breaking the deeply entrenched caste and gender barriers on the football fields. Sport, in this case, proves to be a great equaliser, and builds on the social capital by infusing a sense of shared identity.
In India, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like obesity, diabetes, stroke, chronic lung diseases, cardio-vascular diseases, cancer, etc. which are attributable to lifestyle disorders have become an increasingly serious problem amongst the urban middle-class population, including the youth. According to recent WHO estimates, NCDs are responsible for almost 60% of total deaths in India. Being physically active on a regular basis significantly lowers the risk of NCDs. Health is directly related to productivity. Also, bad health causes serious expenditure on the part of both governments as well as individuals. SDP promotes healthy lifestyle habits and spreads awareness about health, nutrition and preventive care, and hence, contributes towards the holistic growth of an individual, and thus the nation.
People with disability, women, the poorest of a society, youth living in conflict-affected regions, and youth at risk due to substance abuse and human trafficking are most vulnerable to exclusion. SDP helps individuals overcome personal barriers and endows them with hope & strength to fight and eliminate structural difficulties. SDP initiatives are invaluable intervention in reducing social tensions and integrating the marginalised as it provides an alternate entry point into the social and economic life of communities.
People forget about their differences while playing on a team and work towards achieving a common goal. Is this not precisely what, as a nation, we want from the youth – to look past their differences and work towards comprehensive growth of the entire nation?
A thoroughly planned, carefully implemented and rigorously evaluated SDP programme centred on national, regional or local development and/or peace priorities is a powerful and least expensive answer to the various issues which concerns youth development.
This essay first appeared on The News Minute