From addressing issues of rape to tackling left-wing activism – increasingly, popular sports (cricket, hockey, football) are being used to create awareness, combat social issues and fight crimes in India.
Here are some sports that have had a great impact.
1. Hockey: To Fight Maoists
The Maoist or Naxal are inspired by the political ideology of communism and depend on violence and insurgency as a means to overthrow the State. They claim to be fighting for poor farmers and landless laborers who have been deprived of their rights. The banned group of left-wing extremists have been called “the single biggest internal security challenge ever faced by our country,” by our former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. As many as 7,000 lives have been lost between 2005 and 2017 in violent clashes between the Maoists and Indian security forces.
The states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha and Bihar are considered severely affected by left-wing extremism. In the midst of dealing with this issue, the Odisha Government thought of combating Maoism with something that is close to their hearts and literally runs in their blood – Hockey. Local hockey tournaments were set up in sensitive areas like Bisra and Kbolang to divert the youth from left wing extremism to sports. As stated by the Dileep Tirkey, former hockey captain of team India, in some pockets of Odisha, left-wing extremism is very strong. But he’s also of the opinion that they are also extremely talented hockey players. Owing to poverty and lack of education, the tribals in these areas are forced to pick up guns instead of hockey sticks. To fight this further, the government is holding hockey championships in the states of Odisha, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. Such tournaments help the youth see another world, on that offers them jobs, social security and financial stability. Further, hockey hostels are being set up in a tribal-dominated and Naxal-infested areas like the Malkangiri districts. These hostels would be fully funded by the state government and would have an intake capacity of 1,250 students.
2. Football: To Deal With Militancy
India’s Northeast is a region that includes approximately 3% of the Indian population and is just 8% of India’s area. It’s also home to 20% of India’s footballers. There is not a single club or team in the top tier of Indian football that does not have a player from this region. India’s FIFA U-17 World Cup squad includes 3 players from West Bengal, 1 from Kerala and a whopping 8 from Manipur. Clearly, football is an integral part of the culture in the land of seven sisters.
In such a region, where this sport has a large following, it was not very difficult to motivate the youth to take up the ball instead of taking up arms. Back in 2015, the Indian Army was successful in breaking the backbone of the separatist outfit, the National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB) in Assam. Many of the militant commanders and cadres were either neutralized or arrested. Although this would restore peace in the state, the militant group continued to try and recruit more youth from the area. Just like hockey in Naxal regions, football has also been used to prevent the youth in NE from getting trapped in militancy, the Army started promoting football. Football tournaments were held in the Bodoland, then the highest insurgency-affected area. Fearing the extremists, the locals would rarely come out of their homes. But now, sports has become the reason to come out and bond with other communities. When a football team had players from 2 opposing communities, players had to put aside their differences because they represented the same team. It brought a small but valuable and productive level of brotherhood and peace to the region. Similarly, football was also used to wean the youth from drugs. When back in 2011, cricket was used to keep the stone pelting youth away from separatist activities.
3. Wrestling: To Address Gender Inequality
The state of Haryana has the worst male-female ratio in India with 879 females for every 1000males, far below the national average of 950 women to 1000 men. The village of Rohtak was one of the worst, just 822 women for every 1000 men. This village is also a home to India’s first woman who won an Olympic medal in wrestling – Sakshi Malik. Out of 20 Haryanvis at the Rio Olympics, 12 were women. This was a sign of revolution in Haryana. Wrestlers like Sakshi Malik, Geeta and Babita Phogat, and Deepa Malik were wrestling against a patriarchal society and winning medals for the country. This set a stage for women empowerment in Haryana and was indirectly creating value for the girl child. As said by the Sarpanch of Rohtak – Sakshi’s achievement would lead to further improvement in the status of women and girls in the state. And the change is abundantly clear. In a state where women were not seen after night, they now travel the world. Those who were seen wrapped in dupattas in their kitchens were now practicing in stadiums with shorts. Girls were no more a curse, they were victors. All it took was that first gold medal India won in the Commonwealth Games by Geeta Phogat to slowly change people’s mentality and perception. For the first time, a home in Haryana had a nameplate with the daughter’s name. Sakshi Malik recalls the academy where she trained as a child saying there were merely 4-5 girls with her. Now, the same place has at least 25-30 girls training to become wrestlers. While these inspirational stories only point towards the changed perception towards women in Haryana, the census proves it. In a major jump from 2011 census, the state has witnessed a remarkable 82 points (914-1000) in sex ratio over the last 5 years. Wrestling may not be the only thing to have made that number jump, but it was definitely a contributing factor.
4. Boxing: To Encourage Self-Defense
According to a study from Stanford University School of Medicine, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, self-defense can drastically reduce girl’s vulnerability to sexual assault. Self-defense, karate, boxing, taekwondo, and judo have seen a surge in interest in India after we were named as one the most dangerous country in the world. In 2017, there was a 40% jump in female students at self-defense classes in Delhi.
Encouraged by this, 5 times world boxing champion – Mary Kom – is all set to start India’s first female fight club, where she plans to teach thousands of girls to defend themselves against sexual harassment. She sees this club as a long-term solution to India’s recurring violence against women in India, where students to housewives, women will be able to look after themselves and not feel scared or helpless. Being an apprising boxing player was the reason Mary Kom was she was able to overpower her assaulter. One kick and a strong punch, and he was flat down.
Here’s why Odias are such great hockey players:
5. Cricket: For Better Diplomatic Ties