Elite athletes sweating it out in their relentless pursuit of excellence. Winning World Championships. Watching the tricolour being raised as the National Anthem plays. Medalists being feted and rewarded. These are the images that might readily come to mind when you think of ‘Indian sports’.
Athletes like Abhinav Bindra, Neeraj Chopra, PV Sindhu, our Paralympians and, most recently, the Thomas Cup team, bring us pride, joy and confidence, shaping what it means to be Indian. They have, once and for all, countered the trope that Indians aren’t good at sports. They are, undeniably, role models and great champions, and their successes have been well documented.
There are also other champions of Indian sport whose work demonstrates that sport can be about so much more than winning.
As we celebrate 75 years of India’s independence, our #MakingSportWork series, in association with The Better India, we also celebrate those who have spent years, decades, and even entire careers, working to improve lives around them, through sport. They include a former national team player training young girls in her village at hockey. Another teaches coastal communities surfing and skateboarding. We have organisations bringing football, athletics and rugby coaching to tribal kids. And yet another one bringing physical education to students with disabilities. These people and initiatives are all around us, though their achievements may not make it to the daily newspapers.
They teach us that social enterprise brings sport closer to home for everyone, seeking solutions to everyday situations using the radical power of sport. These contributions to the cultural commons of sport are no less remarkable than those of our medalists.
In this series, we will celebrate the healing and binding power of sport and the spirit of service towards building a ‘better India’ for us all.
Making sport work for a billion plus Indians might seem virtually impossible. Yet, the scale of the task should not overwhelm us. Each of us can touch lives through sport.
Sport can bring social impact in many ways. When combined with the empowerment and involvement of the community its power is multiplied manifold. We are driven by the quest for universal participation in sport and physical activity, in whichever shape or form a person chooses. The #MakingSportWork series is emblematic of the premise that everyone can contribute, participate, and change the world around us through sport.
Through this participation and engagement, we will see the sustainable social impact that will accelerate inclusion, equality, and empowerment.
As we look at India over the next 75 years, we envisage one in which every Indian has an opportunity to experience the joy of living an active, healthy life, living in a society in which sport, movement and the spirit of play are woven into our nation’s fabric. This will be an India where ‘the mind is without fear and the head is held high,’ as Rabindranath once envisioned.
Join us on this journey as we celebrate the sports changemakers, their initiatives and the universal language of sport.
The writers of this piece, Nandan Kamath and Desh Gaurav Sekhri, are co-founders of the Sports and Society Accelerator. To learn more about how the organisation is building the ecosystem of sports in India visit www.sports-society.org.