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Monday, December 17, 2007

Supporting Sports in Rural India

Madhya Pradesh has gone beyond the district-level sports officer to hunt for sporting talent among the rural population.

Dharmendra Sharma is a farmer in the Barai block of the Gwalior district in Madhya Pradesh. He is also a trained volleyball player. And now he is also a coach.

Sharma is currently identifying sporting talent in the 60 villages in the block. It could be some of the children who gather outside the Barai Grameen Yuva Kendra to give their names and their interests. Some are dropouts, while some like Raju Kaurav of Class X of nearby Shyam Higher Secondary School are quite sure what they want. Kaurav wants archery, not volleyball.

Sharma has Archana Agnihotri, a kho-kho and kabaddi coach from Barai village, to assist him. A coach trained in shooting will soon be joining them, says district sports officer Jameel Ahmed, who is himself a football player.

Barai village has a population of more than 5,000 and hence qualifies to have a playground of its own and also a separate coach. Hence, Agnihotri is there.

It is Madhya Pradesh’s way to say ‘Chak De’ to rural India. Under a unique programme started a year ago by the then sports minister, Yashodhara Raje Scindia, the state has gone beyond the district-level sports officer to open Grameen Yuva Kendras in every block and appoint coaches in them, and also to have coaches in big villages under the kendra.

Barai block has 10 such villages and all will get separate coaches in the coming years. The plan is to have one new coach per block each year, says director of the sports department and IPS officer Sanjay Chaudhury. The rural coaches like Agnihotri and Sharma are meant to take the talent hunt beyond the district level, he adds.

The state, which boasts of national academies for shooting, riding, marshal arts and water sports — all in Bhopal — is now building its hockey academy in Gwalior.

“The state had always been selecting talented players at the district level and sending them to the academies. Now the screening will start at a more preliminary stage in the villages. If we find a 10-year-old who has potential, and if he performs well at the district screening events, the district coaching centres will train the child till he goes to one of the national academies,” says Ahmed.

The number of villagers represented now in divisional screening events is low but is rising. In 2006-07, of the 1,152 youths who took part in the Gwalior division, 257 were from the villages. In the following year, of the 2,212 participants, 685 were from villages.

The state had only six coaches two years ago and now the number is 600. The target is to have 12 to 14 coaches in each district, says Chaudhury.

The state’s sports budget two years ago was Rs 5 crore and today it is Rs 40 crore. That is a dramatic increase, though it is too insignificant compared to the Rs 80,000 crore the nation would be splurging on the Commonwealth Games in 2010.

Coaches like Sharma and Agnihotri are on contract and are paid about Rs 2,000 at the block level and just Rs 750 at the village level. While it remains a case of “cheque de” India as far as sporting talent is concerned, there may be support coming the way of sportsmen in the villages. Grameen Yuva Kendras have drawn the attention of the Arcelor Mittal trust for sports, but Sanjay Chaudhury assures us that no offer has been made so far.

A private company, Ogilvy, which won the bid to provide publicity for the Grameen Yuva Kendras and the talent hunt drive, is talking about turning the sporting network into a network for the market.

The Madhya Pradesh government itself has thought of using the Kendras to provide information to youth on employment and education, and as linking points for skill development. There are contracts already with VLCC for courses for rural youth leading to placements.

But there is something of the puritan in many a sportsman and the lack of money does not seem to dim his spirit. “We are sportsmen. We are not here to make money,” says Sharma. This seems like an anachronism in a world where sports means a lot of money.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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