A Sports Revolution in Rural India
Far away from the spotlight of roaring stadia and sports channels, a silent sports revolution is underway in the villages of India where coaches nurture young athletes. Many of these players are bringing glory to their district, their state, and the country.
गाँव कनेक्शन 1 July 2023 8:39 AM GMT
The 2018 FIFA World Cup was around the corner, and Sampurn Kumar Nigam decided it was the perfect opportunity to form a girls’ football team in the primary school where he is principal. It was a first for the primary school in Bishnupur, Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh.
Nigam did not stop at that. To encourage the young players and bring their talent to the attention of the wider community, he decided to participate in a government programme that was underway. As part of the ‘My Stamp’ programme being run through post offices across the country, Nigam sent a photograph of his girls team to the Indian government.
The next thing, the Department of Post of the central government issued a Rs 5 postage stamp featuring the photos of the players of Bishnupur primary school. The stamp was launched by the local MLA, and the entire village was filled with pride for their daughters.
The team has since won trophies and medals including honours from the Minister of Education.
There was a time when an interest in sports was peremptorily brushed aside: Padhoge likhoge banoge nawab, kheloge kudoge banoge kharab [Study, and you will be king; play, and you will be a wastrel) was a much touted adage. But now, both educational institutions and parents realise the importance of sports, for both physical and mental well-being.
Bollywood movies have also helped the cause of sports. Mary Kom, Bhag Milkha Bhag, Chak De India, Dangal, are based on the lives of sports stars who have emerged from the dust of the hinterlands.
Sporting culture has come to stay in the far flung villages of the country and rural India is increasingly proving to be the backbone of Indian sports.
The Government of India and state governments have introduced multiple initiatives to groom athletes for professional sports. The National Education Policy 2020 offers a window of opportunity to integrate sports as a non-alienable part of the curriculum in schools and colleges.
The network of schools and colleges across India makes a perfect platform to scale sports to reach each household. And to make this happen, teachers in village schools are leaving no stone unturned to identify and train the future champions of the country.
For instance, for the past four decades, Basant Singh Mann, a volleyball coach in Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan, has coached hundreds of players from rural pockets who have won medals both nationally and internationally. Gaon Connection has reported on the 69-year-old coach, who despite retiring continues to train players.
So far 1,300 of his trainees have been national medalists. Many of them have played in international tournaments,and seven of them have won several medals. No wonder Coach Mann’s ancestral village Silwala Khurd is known as Khel Gaon.
Over 700 kilometres north of Coach Mann’s village in Rajasthan, another coach and a primary school teacher has established the Football Club (FC) Ganderbal in Kashmir Valley. Muzamil Mahmood from Gogjigund village holds an Asian Football Confederation licence, and has been training Kashmiri rural youth in football.
Muzamil goes from school to school in the district to tell students about football. Apart from preparing future champions, the teacher is also guiding light for the youth in the Valley.
“I am very thankful to Muzamil Sir because at a time when young people are falling prey to drugs, he gave me the opportunity to stay clean and join his academy and work hard to make my future bright,” Fazil Yusuf, a 16-year-old player at FC Ganderbal, told Gaon Connection.
Somewhat similar is the story of hard work and dedication of Rakesh Kumar Vishwakarma who has built a team of kabaddi players at the Composite Model School, Sanaiya Jatt, in Rampur district of Uttar Pradesh.
Vishwakarma, who is now an assistant teacher, studied at Sarvodaya Vidyalaya and was good at sports. When he became a teacher and had the option to choose a school for his posting, he chose Composite Model School, Sanaiya Jatt, because the school had a large playground.
Vishwakarma knew that apart from academics, physical education and sports were crucial for overall development of the children. He started playing sports with students on a regular basis during the school hours. This not only helped the assistant teacher connect with his students, but also encouraged other children in the village to take admission in the school. Soon, the number of students enrolled at school rose from 175 to 300.
The kabaddi team of the school has earned a name for itself and wins wherever it goes for competitions, said Vishwakarma. In 2018, the players became block champions, and the District Education Department honoured these students.
These players closely watch YouTube videos to learn various techniques and get better at their game every day. Nine students from the school have been selected for the Indian government’s ‘Khelo India’ programme. And this is not all. The government has also decided to build a sports complex inside the Composite Model School at Sanaiya Jatt village!
These are just a handful of stories of rural teachers who are silently raising an army of sports players from rural India. Sports is no more just a hobby; it is a serious career option and many young people are going for it.
Sports can be a gamechanger in rural India as it can help the youth earn a decent livelihood, and at the same time shine a light on them and their hitherto unknown villages.
With inputs from Danish Iqbal.
Download Teacher Connection E-magazine for June here.