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Editorial Articles


Issue no 11, 10 - 16 June 2023

Game On! India Reinvents its Sporting Prowess

Dr. Rajesh Kumar

Vinayak Kumar Jha

On the 25th of May, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, through video conferencing, inaugurated the Khelo India University Games 2022. The Government has consistently emphasised the development of a sports culture in the nation and the encouragement of young individuals to embrace sports. The Government has launched various schemes to support aspiring athletes and has taken significant measures to fortify the sports ecosystem in the country. The organisation of the Khelo India University Games is yet another stride in this progressive direction. This year, the third edition of the Khelo India University Games took place from the 25th of May to the 3rd of June in Uttar Pradesh. The competitions were held across various venues including Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Lucknow, and Gautam Buddha Nagar. More than 4750 athletes from over 200 universities participated in 21 different sports. The Games showcased immense talent and fierce competition. The Games had their own distinctive mascot named Jitu, symbolising the Swamp Deer (Barasingha), which is the state animal of Uttar Pradesh. Sport possesses tremendous power in shaping a country's future. On one hand, it has the potential to cultivate individuals' character traits, while on the other, it can elevate a country's status as a global sporting powerhouse. According to Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, "A country's strength isn't solely determined by its military and economy; it is equally essential for a nation to possess the capability to be a soft power, and achieving success in international sports events can aid in building such capacity." Sports have the ability to unite a nation, transcending the barriers of religion, caste, creed, and other differences, thus fostering better societies. To attain excellence in sports, well-crafted government policies are imperative. Recognising this imperative, the Khelo India initiative was launched in 2016 to revamp the existing sports ecosystem. This scheme integrated the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Abhiyan (RGKA), Urban Sports Infrastructure Scheme (USIS), and National Sports Talent Search Scheme (NSTSS). It was restructured in 2017 with 12 components, incorporating lessons learned from the 2016-17 period and the feedback from key stakeholders, particularly state governments. The success of the initiatives has been evident in India's performance at the global stage in the last few years, including Neeraj Chopra's Gold Medal winning in Javelin throw at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Mirabai Chanu's Silver Medal in Weightlifting at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, Ravi Kumar Dahiya's Silver Medal in Wrestling at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, and the 22 Gold, 16 Silver and 23 Bronze medals India hauled during the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Creating Champions

Khelo India aims to identify talented athletes, establish and enhance sports infrastructure at the block, district, and state levels, and encourage widespread participation of young individuals in annual sports competitions through well-planned tournaments. The monitoring and development of potential sportspersons are facilitated by existing sports institutions, as well as newly established ones by both state and central governments or through publicprivate partnerships. Identifying sports potential at an early stage is invaluable as it allows for the training of children with the greatest aptitude for a specific sport from a young age. For this purpose, the Khelo India Mobile App is utilised to assess over 2.3 million school-aged children, ranging from 5 to 18 years old. Moreover, more than 66,000 physical education instructors have been trained to evaluate the athletic abilities of children. The most crucial aspect of identifying talent correctly lies in creating a competent pool of skilled coaches at the grassroots level. Consequently, efforts have been made to enhance the skill sets of physical education teachers and equip them with knowledge as community coaches, following international best practices. Through the Khelo India Scheme, over 30,000 physical education instructors have been trained as community coaches.

 

Post-COVID Recovery Initiatives

The COVID-19 pandemic exerted a significant impact on athletic endeavors in India, as the outbreak of the virus compelled the cancellation or postponement of the majority of events and competitions. The Indian sports industry suffered substantial financial losses due to these event cancellations, with estimates suggesting that the epidemic could cost the sector up to Rs 90 billion. Nevertheless, in the face of this crisis, the Indian sports industry displayed resilience and gradually commenced its recovery in the latter half of 2020. Moreover, in July 2020, the government unveiled the Khelo India State Centre of Excellence (KISCE) initiative, aiming to provide top-tier training and coaching facilities to young athletes in the nation. This plan has facilitated the enhancement of the country's training infrastructure. Significant facilities developed under the Khelo India program involve allocating monthly financial assistance to chosen athletes, as well as providing support for coaching, training, equipment, diet, and nutrition. Specialised sports academies have been established to focus on Olympic achievements. Furthermore, in collaboration with National Sports Federations, assistance has been extended to 500 private academies through the Khelo India Plan, ensuring that athletes have access to sports facilities nationwide and can train at convenient locations. The number of sports infrastructure projects has seen a remarkable surge, rising sharply from a mere 38 projects between 2010 and 2014 to 267 projects between 2014 and 2020. Some noteworthy infrastructure developments include the refurbishment and improvement of Bhubaneswar's Kalinga Stadium for the 2018 Men's Hockey World Cup. The stadium currently stands as a state-of-the-art sports venue with cutting-edge facilities. Likewise, the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi underwent renovations to meet global standards in preparation for the 2019 South Asian Games. It now serves as a multi-sport complex, housing facilities for athletics, football, and various other sports. Furthermore, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) has established multiple training centers across the country, offering young athletes access to world-class training amenities such as swimming pools, gymnasiums, and sports science laboratories

 

Employment Benefits to Khelo India Participants

While the primary objective of the Khelo India program is to develop sporting prowess, it can also have an indirect impact on participants' career prospects. Engaging in the program enhances their likelihood of securing positions in the armed forces, securing scholarships or sponsorships, and advancing their education and life skills. Moreover, certain entities within the sports and fitness industry offer additional advantages for employment opportunities. A notable illustration is the Sports Authority of India (SAI), which considers participation in the Khelo India Youth Games and Khelo India University Games as desirable qualifications for various positions.

 

Khelo India in the North East

 North East India, comprising approximately 8% of the country's geographical area and accounting for 3.8% of the population, has gained recognition for producing exceptional athletes who contribute significantly to India's success in prestigious sporting events like the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. In an effort to boost participation in the region, the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports has allocated a substantial sum of Rs 423.01 crore to various programs under the Khelo India initiative. As per available data, 62 sports infrastructure projects spanning different disciplines have been approved for the North Eastern region. Moreover, the establishment of the National Sports University in Imphal, Manipur, serves as a catalyst for promoting sports education in areas such as sports sciences, sports technology, sports management, and sports coaching & training. Additionally, eight Khelo India State Centres of Excellence and 152 Khelo India Centres (KIC) have been designated under the Khelo India scheme in the region. Furthermore, the region has seen the official authorisation of 20 academies, and two Army Boys Sports Companies have received support, resulting in the identification of numerous talented athletes from the North Eastern region through the Khelo India program.

 

Khelo India in JammuKashmir and Ladakh

Sports possess the inherent capability to harness the youthful vigour of individuals in a constructive manner. Recognising this, concerted efforts have been made to organise village-level championships that showcase prominent sports disciplines in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and the Union Territory of Ladakh. The Khelo India Winter Games, held in Gulmarg from the 10th to the 14th of February 2023, was a remarkable milestone as India's inaugural multi-sport tournament of its kind. Notably, the region of Jammu and Kashmir clinched the top spot in the medal tally, triumphantly securing 26 gold medals, 25 silver medals, and 25 bronze medals. This exceptional feat showcased the immense talent and vast potential for sporting excellence within the region.

 

(The author Dr. Rajesh Kumar is Assistant Professor (Sr.), Central University of Jharkhand. He can be reached at rajesh.kumar@cuj.ac.in. The Co-author Vinayak Kumar Jha is Ph.D. Scholar, Central University of Jharkhand. He can be reached at vkjmessi@gmail.com)

 

Views expressed are personal.