Strategic mindset helps while using sport to deliver change
Sports that command a large following in communities can act as channels of transformation when marginalised or neglected sections in such groups are the focus. Interventions undertaken with the aim of creating a better future for youngsters from disadvantaged segments of society, can use sports which are popular in these communities as tools of change.
While creative and persistent efforts are still required to ensure longevity of development programmes given the arduous task of mining for resources, many a silver lining emerges from the clouds while approaching community development projects using sport with a strategic mindset.
Football and hockey, hugely popular in certain pockets of Bengaluru, the capital of the Indian state of Karnataka, are two sports which have been used as effective vehicles of change in these localities. Youth from the city's disadvantaged sections, rendered helpless by poverty, broken homes and abuse are drawn towards alcohol, drugs and gangs in the hope of escaping the reality of their situation.
Football has been a welcome diversion for them, the sport's training regimens, team dynamics and success in competitions helping to learn discipline, respect, fair play, goal-setting and other social skills.
Similar benefits have been reaped by young members of a Bengaluru orphanage through hockey. Involvement with the team sport gave them a sense of belonging even as it provided goals to strive towards.
Both sports, as a result of being popular in localities where development programmes were launched, carried advantages which helped to attract participants for the self-empowering programmes. They are:
Availability of role models
Many individuals from underprivileged groups across the city have pursued football and hockey, turned into professional players and risen above their difficult situations. They have either represented a club, or a company in the private or public sector. A steady source of income or a regular job are the rewards. Some of them have donned state and national colours even grabbing media attention with their on-field displays. A salary, employment and public appreciation are highly motivating elements for those from impoverished backgrounds. Those who have reached these goals overcoming challenging life-situations are a tremendous source of inspiration for other disadvantaged youngsters. Their association with campaigns of change can help influence reluctant participants to join the programme while regular appearances to share knowledge on various aspects of the game or life stories can motivate participants to stay interested in the project.
A sense of community
A sport which is popular in the community creates a sense of togetherness among its members. They come up with a great show of unity while supporting a local team in competitions. An event in the sport in the locality meanwhile is a huge draw as many from the neighbourhood turn up to enjoy the spectacle. If the sport has an international following, like football, major global competitions are instances for animated discussions and joyful celebrations. Healthy social interactions that a sport can encourage leave a positive imprint on marginalised youth, enabling them to look optimistically at any association with it.
Support from the community
The community's many working professionals, businessmen and local politicians readily support causes associated with the sport out of sheer passion for the game. They not only offer funds but also their time, at times volunteering to be part of various development projects.
Opportunities to hone skills
In Bengaluru, a locality with a large fan following for a particular sport more often than not, is home to at least one amateur club. Supported by benefactors consisting of individuals and local small businessmen, these sports clubs are an avenue for the locality's youngsters to pursue their passion. With only talent as a criteria to gain entry, the clubs provide huge motivation and opportunity for participants of community development projects to hone their skills and engage in a productive activity.
Sports can surely make important contributions in creating level playing fields where undemocratic and unfair environments prevail. A strategic approach though to ensure the activity's relevance to intended target groups pays rich dividends.
Photo Credit: Karnataka State Football Association/Facebook
About the author
Vijay Michael Raj, currently based in Doha, Qatar, is a sports journalist who has written for newspapers in India and the Middle East. His most recent assignment was the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 for Inside Qatar, a social media platform under the umbrella of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the organisers of the 2022 World Cup. Having been associated with sports for over 15 years of his 25-year career as a media professional, he is interested in the impact of sports and sports events on communities.