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What will it take for India to have a sporting culture?

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Sporting culture is a combination of tangible and intangible elements — the number of fans that turn up to watch local sports, the importance given to sports by schools and parents, the presence of playgrounds in urban environments, local teams, local platforms that showcase and highlight lesser-known sports and sporting talent, local coaches and champions from the community — these are but some measures of a thriving sporting culture.

4 P’s of a sporting culture

Yet, a strong sporting culture is what we need to get India to play. Building a nurturing ecosystem for sports to thrive, from the grassroots all the way up, needs strong foundations. There are three areas where corporates can play a significant role in growing the ecosystem: Playgrounds, People Development, and Platforms.

Giving children an opportunity for free play is paramount, and playgrounds are a fundamental enabler in this process. Playgrounds are not a priority area in education: only 60% of primary and 78% of secondary schools in India. The individual state numbers are even starker — only 30% of schools in Odisha and 32% of schools in Jharkhand have a playground.
As per the Right To Education (RTE) Act of 2009, all schools, both public and private were expected to meet infrastructure norms – which includes a playground – within three years, i.e. by 31 March, 2013. However, the government relaxed rules through a 2012 amendment, stating that “… due to space difficulties in providing playgrounds within the school premises, it is not necessary anymore for schools to have a playground facility. However, schools must ensure to provide alternative arrangements for children in nearby parks for children to engage in outdoor/ physical activities.
Secondly, amidst rapidly shrinking urban open spaces and the jostling between children being coached and children being allowed free play, the need to discover, reclaim or adapt existing spaces becomes important. Unused open spaces and school playgrounds are underutilised and have potential to be used for community sports in the evenings. In 2015, the Delhi Development Authority had announced that it would convert unused vacant plots into playgrounds for children. There is not much progress on that front.
The NSDC skill gap analysis on sports qualifies that India has an annual shortage of 40,000 PE (physical education) instructors and over 30,000 elite and non-elite coaches to achieve the goals of 2022. Coaches and skilled trainers are vital to the development of a sporting culture in India.
Apart from providing specialised sports training, coaches can be hugely influential in helping kids learn about themselves, build relationships with others, and overcome obstacles, leading to better social development outcomes. Children who are coached early perform better in education, are able to utilise their time more productively and are driven.
Sporting events, competitions, and sports facility infrastructure provide a way to discover and groom talent across age groups and across rural and urban areas. With the popularity of the IPL, other leagues have become operational in the country, providing encouraging trends for the future of sports in India. These leagues in turn offer opportunities to build a strong pipeline for deserving talent.