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Beyond the game: a community’s transformation through sports
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  1. Kanishka Pandey
  1. Sports Research Centre, Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad, India
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kanishka Pandey, Sports Research Centre, Institute of Management Technology Ghaziabad, Ghaziabad, India; kanishkasportswayoflife{at}gmail.com

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This story revolves around the twin villages of Bahadarpur and Khedi-Viran in Muzaffarnagar District, Uttar Pradesh, India.1 These villages are situated in what is known as the ‘Sugar Bowl of India’, primarily reliant on agriculture, especially sugarcane, with additional industries in steel and paper. Despite being a significant agricultural hub, the region lacks essential facilities in education, healthcare and sports.

The twin villages, like many rural areas in India, face challenges due to the absence of basic civic amenities.2 While there have been improvements in education, health, sanitation and access to drinking water in recent years, sports facilities have not been a priority for the government.

This lack of focus on sports has led to various difficulties for the local population. These include the absence of proper playgrounds, lack of organised sports activities, limited awareness about different sports (aside from cricket) among children, minimal exposure to the benefits of sports, negative attitudes towards sports and a perception that sports are a waste of time. Essentially, this community, characterised by low income and limited exposure to sports, has missed out on the positive impacts that sports activities can bring to physical and mental health, social opportunity and overall well-being.

IMT Ghaziabad, a prominent Business School in India known for its Centre for Sports Research,3 collaborated with the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Sports: A Way of Life4 to adopt Bahadarpur and Khedi-Viran as India’s first model sports villages.5 The objective was twofold: (1) to focus on sports development, ensuring that every child has access to sports regardless of their background of caste, colour, religion, creed and economic status, and (2) to leverage sports for development, using it as a tool for personality development and addressing societal issues like caste and communal divides. This collaboration between an educational institute and an NGO used the expertise of both. Policy-making, strategising and planning were done by the Sports Research Centre of IMT Ghaziabad and the execution part was taken care of by the NGO and its volunteers. This programme was led by me as the Head of Centre for Sports Research. There were many individuals—some former Olympians and medal winners like Mr Ashok Kumar Dhyanchand, Mr Zafar Iqbal, Mr Devendra Jhajharia among many others who readily volunteered to motivate and educate the kids on different aspects of sports. They also offered their expertise to ensure positive implementation of sports-related measures.

This was mainly an initiative of IMT Ghaziabad and this programme was funded by the institute. However, the success of this initiative with so little resources was mainly attributed to the positive participation and involvement of local self-government (village-level administration), the district administration and the involvement of former sportspersons who volunteered.

Over a span of nearly 4 years, significant progress has been made in these villages. This includes improving playgrounds, providing athletic training with coaches and facilitators, enhancing sports literacy, distributing sports materials, creating a positive sports environment and enrolling around 500 children in training programmes at its peak.6 There are two notable highlights that need mentioning: (1) In a village where there was no sports or physical activity, children from this village started winning medals in district, zonal and state level tournaments. (2) The youngest registered in the programme was a 5-year-old girl who was brought to the grounds every day by her 80-year-old grandmother. This highlights people were motivated and inspired across the age spectrum.

Furthermore, surveys conducted among parents of the registered children revealed positive changes. Parents strongly agreed that their children had become more disciplined, reduced their mobile usage and started waking up earlier since the commencement of these activities.

In addition to providing basic facilities like coaches, equipment and infrastructure, the success of these initiatives can be attributed to two innovative methods. (1) Sports Hour and Sports Censor—from 17:00 to 18:00, the entire community was motivated to keep away their mobile phones or electronic gadgets and participate in physical activity or sports. (2) Appeals and Letters—which were circulated and told people about the power of sports for building the character and personality of their wards.

We often wonder in India, why a population of around 1.4 billion people fail to perform in international sporting competitions like the Olympics. Our understanding is that this may be because we have a poor sports culture. Our learning from this project has established that an increase in sporting culture has the potential to enhance the chances of better performance. An increase in sports culture leads to an increase in the number of participants, which leads to increased competition, which in turn results in better performances and an inflated talent pool. Ultimately, an inflated talent pool will lead to better chances of producing high-performance athletes (of course other factors like better infrastructure, use of technology and coaches cannot be ignored). Also, sports are not just about competitions but they are an effective tool for overcoming numerous challenges in society.

Looking ahead, the sustainability of this project rests on empowering and motivating the local community to continue and expand these initiatives. As the project transitions to the district administration, the villagers, now motivated and empowered, will take the lead in maintaining the facilities and programmes. Two facilitators have been trained during this period and are ready to step into coaching roles, ensuring the continuity and growth of sports activities in these villages.

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  • Collaborators Not applicable.

  • Contributors Not applicable.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.