The 5+5 strategy to reshape SDP: Perspectives from India
This article was submitted as part of our call for reshaping the future of sport and development.
I’ve worked in the sport and development sector for the past decade and witnessed the many gains made by the sector, in India and globally. I believe this has largely been possible due to the amazing efforts of individuals, organizations and communities working independently, rather than collectively, especially in India.
COVID-19 has threatened the very existence of the sport and development sector, and I have witnessed firsthand its severe impact on sport and society, exacerbating existing inequalities, barriers and key issues that face our communities.
I propose a 5+5 strategy that will help stakeholders, especially in India, identify key issues that need to be addressed in order to strengthen the sector, along with specific strategies they can adopt in order to bring about change.
5 key issues facing the sector
- Increasing knowledge on sport for social impact
Stakeholders across the sport and development spectrum in India, including government, civil society, the non-profit sector, the private sector and the sports industry, need to gain a better understanding of how purposefully designed sports interventions can enable change within society. Moreover, they need to recognize how sports interventions can be leveraged to enable national priorities beyond sporting excellence, including key current focus areas such as education, gender equality, youth empowerment and livelihood generation.
- Balancing elite and grassroot sports
The COVID-19 pandemic has put into stark contrast stakeholders’ attitudes and actions towards grassroots and recreational sports, in comparison to elite and professional sports. Given the growth of sport in India in the past decade, primarily due to the success of its athletes at global competitions, commercial interests have meant that stakeholders’ focus has been on enhancing elite sporting structures in India, at the expense of grassroot sports.
Elite sport no doubt has a crucial role to play within sport and development, but, at the same time, grassroots and recreational sports need to be enriched, for India’s growth in sport to be sustainable, equitable and more impactful in the future.
- Encouraging the participation of girls, women and trans people in sport
Though there has been a lot of change in women’s sport in India over the past decade, much more needs to be done to ensure sport becomes more inclusive and accessible to girls, women and as well as the trans community. More opportunities and greater access need to be provided at the grassroots to girls and trans youth, to participate and excel in sport as well as gain from its health, well-being and social benefits.
Within elite and professional sport, equal pay for professional women athletes and better representation of trans athletes as well as women and trans coaches needs to be looked at more seriously by decision-makers, in order to strengthen the sporting ecosystem for girls, women and trans people.
- Building a robust sports governance
The governance of sporting structures in India continues to suffer from politicism, nepotism and unprofessionalism, leading to the sluggish and unequal development of sport across the country. We need to move towards a system of sports governance which values professionals with experience in the management of sport, leading its affairs in a transparent and accountable manner.
Moreover, sport governing bodies in India need to recognize and promote the social impact that sport can have on individuals and communities, and look beyond just the professional achievements of athletes.
- Mainstreaming safeguarding in sport
Sporting systems in India continue to falter in safeguarding its young athletes, despite the
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act being in force since 2012. This needs to become a priority in the Indian sporting ecosystem, right from the grassroots and recreational level to the elite and professional level.
Further, safeguarding in sport in India needs to take a holistic approach and not just focus on sexual offences – it needs to ensure the safety and well-being of athletes from all perspectives. Safeguarding systems need to hold those delivering, managing and governing sport accountable for having policies and globally recognized best practices in place to deter and deal with incidents effectively.
5 key ways to influence change
- Enhanced investment and sustainable funding in sport and development
Whether it is private investment, government funding or philanthropic grants, the sport and development sector requires contextually relevant, grassroots focused, long-term and reliable funding that improves access and inclusion of diverse persons in sport. Moreover, strategies and interventions that focus on enabling social change through sport should be prioritized by donors and investors.
- Clear policy provisions for sport and development
All levels of government and policymakers need to create effective policy provisions at national, state, and local levels across India, which leverage the use of sport to impact positive social change. Moreover, existing policies catering to key national priorities need to integrate sports as a medium to enable positive outcomes.
Most importantly, these policy provisions leveraging sport for positive social change need to identify sustainable implementation strategies that involve a diverse set of stakeholders, in order for the policies to translate into meaningful actions effecting change.
- Advocate for and communicate the role of sport in development
Sport in India needs to be recognized as a fundamental right and public good for all. Key decision makers need to understand how sport can be leveraged effectively and at scale in improving the lives of individuals and communities and accelerating efforts towards positive social change. Stakeholders in the sport and development sector need to come together to scale-up advocacy efforts to highlight the influential and wide-ranging impact that sport can have on development outcomes.
- Collaboration and working together is key
There is an urgent need for diverse stakeholders to enhance collaborative efforts in using sport as a social good, in order to scale-up reach and impact. The sports industry in India continues to be disorganized and disjointed, while key actors in India’s sport and development sector primarily work in silos, despite striving towards similar objectives. Working together can result in better opportunities for all, greater investment in sport at all levels, as well as enhanced knowledge sharing and greater innovation.
- Enhanced opportunities for capacity building
High quality and affordable training and capacity building in sport needs to move beyond commercial sport at the elite and performance levels, which primarily focuses on enhancing technical proficiency. Such opportunities need to be made accessible for grassroots and recreational sport sectors, to girls, women and trans people, as well as for knowledge beyond technical skills, including, but not limited to, facilitation skills, working with youth, soft skills, first aid, safeguarding, gender sensitization and prevention of sexual harassment.
The 5+5 strategy is an ambitious plan to elevate sport and development in India and get buy-in from diverse stakeholders to commit to enabling social change through sport. It must be viewed as a means to not just strengthen sport in India, but also leverage sport to enable key national priorities identified by the Government of India, along with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Given the complex social issues prevalent in the country, positioning sport as such can be a game changer towards enabling the social, human and economic development that India is seeking.
Suheil F. Tandon is the Director-Founder of Pro Sport Development, an award-winning social enterprise based in India that uses sport as a tool for the holistic development of children and youth. Find him on Twitter and LinkedIn