Seen from India: the 5+5 strategy to reshape the SDP
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The sport for development sector has demonstrated great resilience in recent years, but we must act collaboratively, coherently and consciously to strengthen the sector and make sport more equitable, inclusive and accessible.

This article was submitted as part of our call to reshape the future of Sport and Development .

I have worked in the sport for development sector for the last decade and have witnessed the many strides the sector has made, in India and around the world. I believe this has been made possible in large part due to the incredible efforts of people, organizations and communities working independently rather than collectively, particularly in India.

COVID-19 has threatened the very existence of the sport for development sector, and I have witnessed first-hand its severe impact on sport and society, exacerbating existing inequalities, barriers and key issues facing our communities face.

I propose a 5+5 strategy that will help stakeholders, particularly in India, identify key issues that need to be addressed in order to strengthen the sector, as well as specific strategies they can adopt in order to bring about change.

Five key questions facing the sector

1. Increase knowledge about sport with social impact

Stakeholders in the field of sport for development in India, including government, civil society, the non-profit sector, the private sector and the sports industry, need to better understand how sport interventions designed to purpose can promote change within society. Furthermore, they must recognize how sports interventions can be leveraged to foster national priorities beyond sporting excellence, including current key foci such as education, gender equality, empowerment youth and livelihood creation.

2. Balancing elite sport and mass sport

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a stark contrast between stakeholder attitudes and actions towards grassroots and recreational sports, and those regarding elite and professional sports. Given the growth of sport in India over the past decade, mainly due to the success of its athletes in global competitions, commercial interests have meant that stakeholders have focused on strengthening elite sporting structures in India, to the detriment of mass sports.

Elite sport undoubtedly has a crucial role to play in sport for development, but, at the same time, grassroots and recreational sports need to be enriched, for the growth of sport in India to be sustainable, equitable and more impactful in the future.

3. Encourage the participation of girls, women and transgender people in sport

Although women's sports have come a long way in India over the last decade, there is still a long way to go to make the sport more inclusive and accessible to girls, women and the transgender community. Girls and transgender youth must be provided with more opportunities and better grassroots access, so that they can participate and excel in sport and benefit from its health, wellbeing and social benefits.

In elite and professional sport, equal pay for professional female athletes and better representation of transgender athletes and female and transgender coaches must be considered more seriously by decision-makers, in order to strengthen the sports ecosystem for girls, women and transgender people.

4. Build strong sports governance

The governance of sports structures in India continues to suffer from politicism, nepotism and a lack of professionalism, leading to slow and uneven development of sport in the country. We must move towards a system of sports governance that values professionals with experience in sports management, running its affairs in a transparent and accountable manner.

Furthermore, sports governing bodies in India must recognize and promote the social impact that sport can have on individuals and communities, and look beyond just the professional results of athletes.

5. Integrate protection into sport

Sports systems in India continue to fail in protecting young athletes, despite the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses (POCSO) Act in force since 2012. This must become a priority in the Indian sports ecosystem, from the local and recreational level to high-level and professional sport.

Furthermore, protection in sports in India must take a holistic approach and not just focus on sexual offenses. It must ensure the safety and well-being of athletes from all points of view. Safeguarding systems must hold those who provide, manage and govern sport accountable for having globally recognized policies and best practices in place to effectively prevent and deal with incidents.

Five key ways to influence change

1. Improve investment and sustainable financing in sport for development

Whether through private investment, public funding or philanthropic donations, the sport for development sector needs contextually appropriate, grassroots-focused, long-term and reliable funding that improves access and inclusion of diverse people in sport. Additionally, donors and investors should prioritize strategies and interventions that aim to drive social change through sport.

2. Clarifying policy arrangements for sport for development

All levels of government and policy makers must create effective policy arrangements at the national, state and local levels in India that leverage the use of sports to positively impact social change. Furthermore, existing policies that respond to key national priorities must integrate sport as a means to achieve positive results.

Most importantly, those policy provisions that leverage sport for positive social change must identify sustainable implementation strategies that engage a diverse set of stakeholders, so that policies translate into meaningful actions resulting in change.

3. Defend and communicate on the role of sport in development

In India, sport must be recognized as a fundamental right and a public good for all. Key decision-makers need to understand how sport can be used effectively and at scale to improve the lives of people and communities and accelerate efforts for positive social change. Stakeholders in the sport for development sector must come together to intensify advocacy efforts to highlight the broad and powerful impact that sport can have on development outcomes.

4. Collaborating and working together is essential

There is an urgent need for various stakeholders to strengthen their collaborative efforts in the use of sport as a social good, in order to increase its reach and impact. The sports industry in India continues to be disorganized and inconsistent, while key players in the sports for development sector work primarily in silos, despite pursuing similar goals. Working together can result in better opportunities for all, increased investment in sport at all levels, as well as better knowledge sharing and greater innovation.

5. Increased opportunities for capacity building

High quality and affordable training and capacity building in sport must go beyond commercial sport at elite and performance levels, the latter focusing primarily on improving technical skills. Such opportunities must also be accessible to the grassroots and recreational sport sectors, girls, women and transgender people, as well as for knowledge beyond technical skills, including, but not limited to, facilitation skills, working with young people, interpersonal skills, first aid, protection, gender awareness and prevention of sexual harassment.

The 5+5 Strategy is an ambitious plan to elevate sports for development in India and gain buy-in from diverse stakeholders to commit to driving social change through sports. It should be seen as a means to not only strengthen sport in India, but also to put sport at the service of the major national priorities identified by the Indian government, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations. Given the complex social issues prevalent in the country, the positioning of sports as such can be a game-changer and enable the social, human and economic development that India seeks.


Suheil F. Tandon is the founding director 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 .


Pro Sport Development


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