Fostering communities through sport
Fostering communities through sport
Leagues and tournaments organized within a community can bring all stakeholders around to enjoy sports and break social barriers that exist in their societies.
Hundreds of people gathered in the rural town of Gooty with loud cheers and claps. The ground was filled with children, youth, adults and the elderly, all there to witness a U9 mixed-gender football match.
Sport has been an integral part of communities in India, both pre- and post-independence, with numerous indigenous sports having a strong presence in rural communities. But accelerated urbanization created a lack of access to playgrounds and the need of the working class to excel in education forced children to invest more time in academics has deprived them of physical activity and sport.
The initial hindrance for community participation in sport is a lack of access to sport, sporting infrastructure, quality coaching and equipment, which often restrict communities from actively participating in sport. As a result, children miss out on the opportunities that sport provides them.
Sport has a lot to offer for community development – its engaging nature brings people from different backgrounds, cultures, and religions together, and creates a level playing field for all. Sport is an enabler of dialogue, it creates a level playing field for all, brings communities together and builds bridges between them. To create the desired impact, access to sport must be sustainable in nature, which can be achieved through community ownership and active participation.
To mobilize communities, Anantapur Sports Academy started leagues such as Ananta Premier League for cricket, Anantapur Football League and Anantapur Hockey League. These leagues are conducted in various places across the Anantapur district, with children playing home and away matches, representing their clubs.
“The movement of children from one place to another helps them learn about the whole district and learn cultures; parents who accompany them get to interact with other communities and exchange ideas. It’s not just the competitiveness of the game, there is a lot more that happens in the home and away matches,” says Kishore Babu, manager of Anantapur Football League.
The community did not participate much in the initial years, but as the sporting culture grew, parents began to come out to support their children and their teams. Rigid social structures based on caste and gender norms began to break as team sprit reigned and sport became an equalizer.
Sport and physical activity is often seen as an area for men, while women are expected to learn household chores. In a patriarchal country like India, it is very tough for girls to pursue sports. At this juncture, ASA introduced mixed-gender leagues to promote gender-equality and increase female participation.
Initially, parents and other stakeholders did not show much interest, and a few opposed the idea of girls and boys playing together. While few participated in the U7 and U9 mixed-gender tournaments, there was no community participation to witness the game. With children at the forefront, learning essential values and spreading the message of gender-equality, parents and communities came around. Today, 4 years since the inception of ASA’s mixed-gender leagues, parents and the community have come around and cheer the children on.
ASA initiatives aim to improve community participation and build the capacities of youth and other stakeholders. Through the years, hundreds of youth have been trained in coaching and refereeing. Communities have also been encouraged to take ownership of the events – as this happens, communities begin to build their capacities as they learn skills like organisation and communication, which in turn they use to develop their community.
Over the last 20 years, communities in Anantapur have come a long way, from being against such leagues to taking ownership of the events, creating access and making them more sustainable. Communities have demonstrated that change is possible with sport. Today, these rural communities in Anantapur stand as a shining example of the transformative power of sport.
[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]