The State of Play in India Initiative
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State of Play India Initiative
The World Health Organization (WHO) lists physical activity (PA) as a key developmental priority, for youth and adults alike. Through recent research, a greater understanding of the wide-ranging benefits of PA and sport has emerged across jurisdictions and demographics.

However, in India, priority has largely been given to sports excellence and the performance of elite athletes. As a result, the success of both elite and grassroots sports initiatives has been generally measured as results and medals. This has often undervalued the role of recreational sport and PA in the country.

The recent report on the levels of physical inactivity in India (as reported by the WHO in 2022) shows inactivity levels of over 70% for adolescents, coupled with a 66% mortality rate due to communicable diseases (NCDs) across the population. Further, it is universally acknowledged that participation rates in sports and active recreational activities are lower for women than for men.

As per studies published in The Journal of Global Health and The Lancet, PA is likely to have reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with reduced access to PA avenues and sporting opportunities due to a variety of factors. This therefore is an opportune time to accelerate the movement towards universal PA in India.

India’s unlocked potential

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), inactivity in the United States of America is associated with US$117 billion in annual healthcare costs. India, while reporting even greater inactivity than the USA, has a unique advantage.

With its decades-long demographic dividend, it is well positioned to gain significantly from prioritising active living amongst its population. Additionally, holding the G20 Presidency, gives India a platform to be at the forefront of implementing universal participation in PA and sport.

High-level estimates based on global evidence suggest that the elimination of adult inactivity by 2047 could increase India’s GDP by up to US$50 billion annually. Of this, an estimated US$17 billion would result from improved health conditions, with a reduced expenditure on NCDs that currently contribute about 66 percent to India’s annual mortality burden. The remaining US$28 billion impact on productivity will come from reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, especially among India’s workforce in high-growth sectors like IT, retail, textiles, etc. With every percentage point reduction in adult inactivity in India, there is the possibility of unlocking about US$1-1.25 billion in annual GDP (in 2047).

The US$50 billion estimate of annual benefits represents the sum of a broad range of benefits in health, productivity, business opportunities, social cohesion etc. To move towards a goal of universal participation in PA for India by 2047, the understanding of issues in the Indian context must be nuanced and reflect the realities of all its residents.

For example, a significant portion of the country’s population is engaged in physically demanding work (e.g., agriculture, construction, etc.), which may show up as PA, but is not necessarily always healthy. There is some distance to cover with respect to getting to the right definition, developing measurable indices and parameters, as well as creating a holistic and comprehensive framework linking sports and PA to socio economic benefits.

Benefits of physical activity

The benefits of PA and sport are proven to be a tool for positive change and can impact effective health, education, and economy, with downstream benefits to both youth and adults in equal measure. Today, rapid urbanisation, economic development, and inactive lifestyles have contributed to an increasing number of NCDs.

Regular PA has been shown to reduce the risk of several NCDs. These include some of the biggest health risks of our age: coronary heart disease, diabetes, depression, hypertension, certain cancers and obesity. Exercise is shown to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, to increase lifespan, enhance a sense of wellbeing and community, and increase productivity.

Many studies have attempted to value the contribution of PA as a way of ensuring society is making optimal investments. For example, NCDs cause 71 percent of worldwide deaths each year – including more than 15 million premature deaths among those aged 30 to 69 years – and are projected to result in an estimated US$47 trillion loss to the global economy between 2010–2030. The gains of consistent PA, are experienced by people of all walks of life, age groups and genders, and its positive economic impact is globally estimated at US$1.2-1.7 trillion between 2020-2030.

While a PA-focused model still maintains a focus on participation rates in grassroots sport and recreation, its key performance indicators are based on general levels of adequate PA across the population. With WHO’s launch of the new Global Action Plan on PA (GAPPA) 2018-2030, a focused framework has emerged. The plan outlines four policy actions areas and twenty specific policy recommendations for its member states and international partners to increase PA worldwide. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted a revised International Charter of Physical Education, PA and Sport in 2015, which introduced universal principles such as gender equality, non-discrimination and social inclusion in and through sport.

About the State of Play in India Initiative

To achieve universal participation in PA, India will have to overcome unique challenges related to awareness, availability, access, affordability, attitudes, motivation, and incentives, among others. These will need to be addressed through policy, programmes, and projects that build capacity, systems and enabling environments.

A data-led analysis of the current state of play in India is required and it must be ensured that no one is left out when such a policy is designed. Nearly everyone stands to benefit from a national-level focus on the sector – whether directly or indirectly. Opportunities for organised after-school play can benefit working parents, and teachers, and create more motivated learners. Similarly, more active ageing will help India’s ageing population lead better lives while also reducing the care burden on future generations.

There needs to be a systematic focus on and a macro-level switch to the holistic benefit of PA and sport as compared to how it is today. Decision-makers and key opinion leaders require the support of a participatory framework where civil society actors, private sector participants, and the population at-large assist in helping identify, create, and implement effective and flexible PA models customized to the Indian ecosystem.

To this end, the Sports and Society Accelerator and Dalberg Advisors are collaborating on the State of Play initiative – a first-of-its-kind research and impact evaluation of the PA and sport sector in India. The initiative aims to highlight the key aspects of being a physically active nation and to create a measurable data-led framework on India’s opportunity and vision for PA and sport.

The State of Play initiative will also seek to conduct India’s first study to quantify the comprehensive economic benefits of universal PA. The State of Play initiative will not only set the parameters for how this can be achieved but will also provide the analytical framework that allows each of us, our society and our government to understand the gains from being healthy, fit, and participative.

The main objectives of the SSA-Dalberg State of Play initiative are to:

  • provide a nuanced data-led view of PA in India across age groups, and the economic and social benefits that can be unlocked by increasing physical activity;
  • build awareness of and encourage PA as a priority national-level agenda item, in which sports is not only an outcome, but also a critical enabler of broader population-scale outcomes, using traditional methods such as yoga, and modern interventions through the education and awareness channels;
  • identify gaps and challenges that must be addressed to unlock gains and benefits and borrow relevant and adoptable lessons from local and global best practice on how to address them;
  • lay out a clear set of actionable policy and implementation recommendations and roadmap for key sector stakeholders, including government actors, educational institutes, health and wellness service providers, corporations, grassroot organizations, and individuals;
  • provide stakeholders a baseline to help measure the success of potential future investments.

With an eye on optimizing health, economic growth, productivity, livelihoods and life skills, and capitalizing on the favourable demographic dividend, prioritizing PA and sport is a clear policy and research imperative.

Using the existing comparative advantages and building upon several of the foundational initiatives that exist in India, the State of Play initiative is poised to help create the sustainable ‘active for life’ ecosystem, targeting universal participation in PA for India by 2047.


This article was contributed by Sports and Society Accelerator. Kindly address any queries regarding this initiative to [email protected]

Click below for the discussion brief:

State of Play in India Discussion Brief.pdf


Does not apply
Sustainable Development Goals
All SDGs
Target Group
All target groups

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