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How Strategic Sports CSR is a Catalyst for Communities

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Sports has significant mindshare for the Indian public. Notice how we become one mind during the World Cup final. Current sports CSR budgets have been largely invested in promoting excellence in sport. However, sports can play a transformative role in achieving value for the company in question as well as the communities involved.
Despite high interest in sports, India severely lacks a bottom-up sporting culture and has a low-medal count tally in multilateral events such as the Olympics. To nurture talent from the grassroots, private sector programmes that encourage community participation and promote healthy living at all levels are critical drivers. Strategic CSR programmes that embed sports in them have the potential to attract communities straddling all age groups, from toddlers to senior citizens.
Sports provide an opportunity for positive community engagement. Many companies have CSR programmes in and around their areas of operation, and bringing value to communities has been an essential leitmotif, a social license to operate. Sports here can be leveraged as a powerful tool promoting participation, inclusion, acceptance of rules, discipline, good health, tolerance, gender equality and teamwork. Physical competition enhances community participation in children and adolescents. It is an enabling tool for inclusive development.
Sports is an underutilised tool to achieve development outcomes. Implementation of sports programmes as a part of any CSR intervention can result in low-cost, high-benefit social ventures to address key issues such as education, health and sanitation. The metaphorical ball exists; it needs a push to get rolling.

3 P’s of Sports CSR

There are 3 foundational areas where sports CSR can support in building a strong sporting culture in India from the ground-up.
1) Playgrounds: Only 60% of Indian schools have a playground, a figure that has not improved in the last decade. Sports CSR programmes in creating play spaces can ensure that our children access free play, every day.
PVR Cinemas through their CSR programme, run evening playing and coaching centres around their physical complex in Delhi, in partnership with the Art of Play Foundation. Art of Play Foundation runs structured sports programmes towards the physical, social and emotional development of children. Another example is Anthill Creations, a Bangalore-based sports social enterprise, which creates low-cost playgrounds constructed out of recyclable tires and other materials for the underprivileged. Corporates such as Michelin India have supported Anthill Creation playgrounds, which also offers avenues for DIY playground projects and employee volunteering.
2) People: India is short of 2 million coaches to hit its 2022 target. We are short of 40,000 teachers to instruct children in Physical Education (PE) classes. Training and incentivising the cadre of people who train children and sportspersons with potential can grow the ecosystem.
Glenmark Aquatic Foundation has built a core team of experts for the strategic long-term development of swimming as a sport in India. As part of the CSR initiative, Glenmark Foundation has been conducting coaching clinics in association with the American Swim Coaches Association. Swedish company SKF along with implementation partners Pune Football Club Ltd, is engaged in promoting football coaching with a dedicated team of professional coaches. Just for Kicks, a sports social enterprise, uses football for teaching life skills across India and Africa. Just for Kicks runs a residential and mid-year training programme for all its coaches, which in turn is supported by CSR programmes of sports companies.
3) Platforms: Sporting events, competitions, and sports facility infrastructure, provide a way to discover and groom talent across age groups and across rural and urban areas.
SPN National Inclusion Cup is the only national football tournament of its kind of underprivileged youth. A CSR initiative of Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN), it was launched in partnership with NGO Slum Soccer. The tournament sees participation from teams across the country, and countries such as Nepal as well. Final selected teams go on to the play the ‘Homeless World Cup’, with intense coaching, training and support provided for all teams by CSR of Sony.
Reliance Foundation Youth Sports provides schools, colleges and athletes a platform to showcase their prowess at various sports, starting with football in 2016. The tournaments provide excellent facilities, conditions and environment for student-athletes. Deserving athletes are given scholarships and an opportunity to be picked by professional teams.

Strategic Sports CSR at Different Stages

Sports interventions are applicable at any phase of a human life cycle and have the potential to create meaningful impact whenever they are introduced. While national sports policies currently in place are most conducive to dovetailing sports with education in an academic milieu and tapping potential at the grassroots, there are a host of other channels of intervention that can take place at other stages across the human life cycle that have the potential to create enormous social impact.

Potential for Rural Communities

Companies have been able to integrate structured sports programmes as a part of their ongoing community development initiatives, both in rural and urban areas. Urban community sports such as marathons, cycling or ultimate Frisbee, offer great to strengthen the social fabric in cities and towns to crowdfund and grow various social causes.
While sports education programmes have received more support than other development areas, funding has focused mainly on supporting proven models mainly in urban areas. There is room to support emerging startups and models that look at vulnerable and marginalised communities and geographically challenged areas in Northeast India.
Strong PE programmes require trained coaches and PE teachers. Capacity building and incentive programmes for teachers and coaches are potential areas for CSR funding. Schools often need upgrading of existing playgrounds, even if they have one, or better equipment for sports.
Sports remains one of the most effective vehicles to impart essential life skills among underserved populations. However, being an emerging area, indicators and standards are still being developed, and objective quantification of results is still very early. A portion of CSR budgets can go into funding measurement studies and pilots in this area.

CSR Support in Early Childhood Development

ECD (Early Childhood Development) continues to remain one of the most under-funded areas in education in India, and one with high potential for impact. CSR capital and resources towards the following can aid in making an impact:
– Philanthropic capital towards curriculum development and contextual learning kits and aids, Anganwadi worker or teacher training and capacity building.
– Funding proven models such as the Hippocampus model in States where pre-primary enrolment is less than 10%. For example, Aarti Drugs Limited, through their CSR programme and several partners, have made contributions to primary schools in villages in Gujarat for sports facilities and equipment.
– Engagement of new mothers and community members towards positive health and nutrition practices and play in the home environment

CSR programmes in Skilling

CSR funding can be utilised to effectively develop the value chain for sports employment including training programmes and curriculum for coaches and service personnel, infrastructure and equipment for training. Training and placement of youth in emerging sports jobs in the sector can be well-funded by CSR programmes.
JSW Sports is the sports arm of the JSW Group. It supports sportspersons in their pursuit of judo, wrestling, boxing, athletics and swimming. Athletes are given an opportunity to train and compete across the globe. CSR of JSW Group encourages sports through organising championships; training and nutrition for rural children and youth, and establishing rural sports academies. Inspire Institute of Sport is a unique initiative led by the JSW Group. IIS brings together 23 corporate donors who are collectively funding the operations of the institute through CSR funding.

Potential of Sports CSR in Girl Empowerment

Investing in girls can bring about transformation in communities and societies. A CSR sports programme can be a powerful extension to any programme acting as a force-multiplier for gender empowerment efforts. Programmes in sports must take into account cultural sensitivity in terms of venue, uniform to make them comfortable, safe environment to foster conversations, in order to encourage better participation. Self-defence could be a welcome addition to a girls sports programme.

CSR programmes for Inclusive Sports

With funding for para-athletes itself being a challenge, there is not much focus on coaches or coach training. CSR funding for paralympics training could give a further boost to the strong foundation that has been set among paralympians in the last few years. India’s first Olympic gold medal in an individual sport was won by a Paralympian, an amputee, for javelin throw. Given the promising potential of para-athletes and the funding crunch they face, CSR support across training platforms and avenues will spur more to take up sports and find purpose and inclusion.