Community cohesion through sport in North-East India
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"On a recent visit to the state of Nagaland in the North-East of India, I learnt how community cohesion and relationship building is at the heart of the state and region’s well-known sporting culture."

The sport-related discourses that take place across various formal and informal forums in India revolve around the absence of a sporting culture in the country, especially at the grassroots. However, there is also recognition that a strong sporting culture exists in certain pockets of the country, with North-East India being a prime example, having produced many sportspersons of repute.

The North-East of India is a geographical region representing eight states, including Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. The state of Nagaland was formed in 1963, and constitutes 16 recognised indigenous tribes, each having their own distinct language, culture, and traditions. During a recent visit to Nagaland, not only was I enchanted by its natural beauty, rich traditions, and culture, as well as the kind and generous people, but I got to learn how its sporting culture is rooted in the concept of community cohesion and relationship building within the tribes.

Community-led sport

During my visit on a Sunday to a picturesque village an hour away from the capital, Kohima, I came across a very interesting sight. Two football teams from different khels (each village is sub-divided into khels), who had recently played each other in the final of the local village football league, were engaging in different community and team building activities. The losing team was bonding by cooking a meal together and washing their playing kits collectively, while the winning team was celebrating over a jointly cooked meal and had organised an open jeep tour of the village. These community-building activities were supported by other members of the khel, and not just the footballers. I also learnt that the winning team would go on to play in the higher league, which included the winners from each village of the same tribe.

Two things struck me from this experience. First, each clan, village and tribe had an organised structure for football participation and competition, which was independent of the state football association, but was supported by local leaders and businesses. Second, I was amazed by the community-building activities that each team engaged in, despite the outcome of their game. I observed a strong sense of community bonding centered around sport.

A long history of sport for community building

The next day, a visit to the Nagaland state museum shed light on the old tradition of the Naga tribes participating in sports and games, which historically revolved around community-based events. The indigenous culture of many Naga tribes includes annual community festivals and celebrations, traditionally held before, during or after the harvest season. The museum had an entire section on the indigenous games and sports played by the 16 Naga tribes, primarily during the time of these local festivals. Many of today’s Olympic sporting disciplines and professional sports resembled some of these games.

Though some of these indigenous Naga games had a competitive edge to them, most of them promoted community participation, with some games also including girls and women. This fascinating exhibit in the museum showcased the long history and tradition of the Naga tribes in utilising sport and games for community cohesion and bonding.

Future of sport in Nagaland

The strong community culture around sport along with the long history of traditional games in Nagaland make it an ideal setting to further develop sport, especially from the lenses of community building, cooperation, and social development. Given how sport is strongly embedded into the community culture within Naga tribes, sport would organically fit in as a tool to enhance education, health and development outcomes. Embedding such grassroots sport for development programs in Nagaland would further strengthen the development of sport in the state and allow its youth to seek professional avenues in sport.


Suheil F. Tandon is the Director-Founder of Pro Sport Development, an award-winning social enterprise dedicated to using sport for the holistic development of children and youth. 


Pro Sport Development