Thursday, February 22, 2024

What binds

In a sharply divided world, sport is more often than not retailed as a unique and important connective tissue that binds people together ~ both across and within societies. While sport’s adhesive capabilities could be exaggerated sometimes, it is still difficult to think of other mediums as powerful as sport when it comes to uniting people, regardless of differences in background or beliefs. The world is a fractured place. There are conflicts between countries all over the globe and also conflict within countries as we become siloed with others who share our values and beliefs. Yet throughout history, people who otherwise have little in common have come together on neighbourhood pitches and in packed stadiums, as fans and as players, and put those differences aside for the sake of their teams. India, a nation of 1.3 billion souls, teeming with diverse cultures and landscapes, holds a curious relationship with sport. We celebrate Olympic medals with consummate fervour, yet our sporting infrastructure remains riddled with inequalities. And wrapped within this paradox lies a sporting truth: sport, in any form and of any discipline, can be the great equaliser ~ a leveller that plucks talent from the remotest villages and propels it onto the world stage. For a nation obsessed with cricket, our sporting landscape continues to remain woefully lopsided. While we celebrate our batting prowess on green pitches, countless potential champions languish on dusty grounds, lacking the facilities, the infrastructure, the very platform to showcase their talents. Their raw talent, their burning passion, deserve a stage bigger than their grim immediate surroundings. In actual sense, the power of sport lies in its capacity to transcend barriers. It is a leveller, hammering away socio-economic disparities and offering a level playing field where talent, not privilege, becomes the currency of success. At the very top, only the best are equipped to survive. A Mary Kom rising from the underbelly of Manipur to punch her way onto the boxing world stage, a Sakshi Malik silencing critics with a historic Olympic bronze ~ these are not just individual triumphs but testaments to the transformative power of sport. But for every Mary and Sakshi, there are a thousand lost talents strewn across our sporting landscape. Harnessing their potential calls for a grassroots revolution, one that identifies talent even in the remotest corners, nurtures it with quality coaching and infrastructure and provides accessible pathways to national and international glory. This means investing in rural sports complexes, training programmes tailored to regional strengths and identifying and mentoring exceptional talent. The Government’s Khelo India scheme is a commendable step but its reach needs to be broadened and its implementation streamlined. Public-private partnerships can play a crucial role, with corporate investment in talent scouting and development programmes. Imagine a network of grassroots academies, each specialising in a specific sport, their doors flung open to every child with a spark in their eyes. It cannot be that difficult for the Government to introduce a scholarship system that lifts the financial burden, ensuring that talent, not wealth, determines one’s sporting journey. The NBA and the NFL are glittering stages for athletes who graduate college with basketball and football scholarships. The benefits are not merely in sporting glory. A vibrant sporting culture fosters a spirit of resilience, discipline and teamwork. It instils a sense of national pride and promotes healthy living. It creates role models, inspiring generations to dream bigger and reach higher. The rewards of such an investment are not just medals and sporting glory. Sports have the power to unite a nation, foster a culture of discipline and dedication, and inject economic vitality into communities. By providing equal opportunities, nurturing talent and celebrating diversity, sport can truly be the great leveller. More importantly, if only we let it, it is the enduring thread that connects people, eases tensions and helps us realise that we share much more than what divides us.