Khelega India Toh Khilega India’ — Honourable Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji’s simple mantra for the youth of the country, has been the driving force behind transforming the perception of sports in India in the last few years. Sports, once perceived only as an extra-curricular activity, by most, is now taking centerstage. Strong schemes adopted by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, be it Khelo India, Target Olympic Podium Scheme or Fit India Movement, have played a significant role in motivating youngsters to pursue a serious career in sports, and the number is on a steady rise. Specifically for girl athletes, empathy and inclusiveness have been key drivers for game changing reforms. As we celebrate the National Girl Child Day, it is therefore imperative to look at the way our government has worked with the aim of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas” resulting in a paradigm shift in embracing issues in respect to girls and women, including sports.
Over the years, performances of our women athletes have sealed many places in the Indian sporting folklore. Most importantly, they showed the world that “Bharat ki Mahila” is up for the challenge and can take on the world. These spirited performances coupled with reforms led by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports in recent years have promoted inclusivity, created an ecosystem of awareness towards women in sports and inspired a generation of young girls to actively take part in sports. I can proudly say, 43% of Indian athletes who have qualified for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics are women!
The crucial point in ensuring India becomes a sporting superpower is to increase participation at the grassroots. A wide participation base will ensure there are a good number of children who continue to play sports professionally. It is important to note that young girls form 50% of this participation base, and at no cost can they be left behind. The Khelo India Scheme with the objective of infusing sporting culture and achieving sporting excellence in the country has played a vital role in the past three years. An exclusive component of the Khelo India Scheme focuses on barriers faced by girls & women to take part in sporting activities, and creating mechanisms to overcome these and increase participation. We have had a 161% increase in women participation at the Khelo India Games from 2018 to 2020. From 657 identified female athletes being supported under the Khelo India scheme in 2018, the number has now gone up to 1471 (223% increase!). The Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) focuses on high performance sports where we provide international training exposure, world class physical & mental conditioning, scientific research, day to day monitoring & counseling and ample financial assistance to our elite athletes who could potentially win Olympic gold medals. 86 women athletes were a part of the TOPS program in September 2018, it is heartening to note that today we have 190 of them (220% jump!).
Promotion of women in sports needs to deal heavily with changing social mindsets. Bringing young girls outside, in a safe environment, and allowing them to experience physical activity with good quality coaching and infrastructure has to be a combined effort from both the Govt. and society on the whole. I am happy to note that many women champion athletes have taken proactive steps to establish academies with a focus on sportsing excellence, a number of such initiatives have been supported and fostered by the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports under the National Sports Development Fund. Usha School of Athletics, Mary Kom Boxing Foundation, Ashwini Sports Foundation, Sarita Boxing Academy, Karnam Malleshwari Foundation, Anju Bobby George Sports Foundation, etc are all examples of such initiatives. We continue to engage closely with these initiatives and encourage women athletes to come forward with their expertise and experiences to collaborate with the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports to work towards sporting excellence and overall development.
I have always strongly believed that sports is a potent tool for socioeconomic development. The Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports considers working towards gender equity to be of paramount importance. Young girls & women being exposed to sports will go a long way in improvement of their physical health and building character, this would go on to contribute significantly to societal reform and our human capital. Strategic associations with the Ministry of Women & Child Development are in the pipeline to enhance our efforts towards the cause and take forward India’s developmental vision.
The National Girl Child Day celebrated every 24th of January has immense relevance to our nations ethos, let us all pledge to collectively work towards ensuring young girls play a LOT more sports, such that we as a country march ever nearer to the great Olympic ideal of ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ meaning Faster, Higher, Stronger!
(The author is Union Minister of State (I/C) for Youth Affairs and Sports