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5 CATALYSTS THAT TRANSFORMED GRASSROOTS SPORT IN INDIA

Updated: Jan 10

The past 5 years have seen tremendous changes in the grassroots sports industry in India. With multiple prominent stakeholders now actively involved in youth and community sports, we are on the verge of an ideal environment for producing India’s future champions across multiple sports. When SPORTS FOR ALL began its journey in 2015, the aim was to create a platform to provide equal opportunity for children to compete across Olympic-style multi-sport events at the best sports facilities supported with the best technology and infrastructure (hard and soft).


Over the past 5 years, SPORTS FOR ALL has been privileged to work on various aspects of grassroots sports to make this crucial touch point an impactful one in the journey of a young athlete and the society at large. Captured below are 5 such aspects that we believe have fueled the way grassroots sports operates in India today and are key contributors towards building a healthy, active nation.

1. Sport At The School-Level


Based on a report on the world's youngest populations by 'Euromonitor' a global market research database, India will have 726 million people below the age of 30 years by the year 2030. But if we look at levels of fitness amongst children, there is still a huge room for improvement.

Image & Data Source: PWC – India Active / EduSports - 7th Annual Health Survey: Academic Year 2016 – 2017

The last 5 years have seen a consistent increase in opportunity and exposure for school students when it comes to sports and physical activity. With multi-sporting events like the 'Khelo India Games' that began in 2018 and SFA Championships that began in 2015, young athletes are getting the opportunity to compete at world class venues across multiple sports and Olympic disciplines. These events act as the starting point in the feeder line for discovering potential sports achievers.

Over the past 5 years, 8 editions of the SFA Championships have seen over 1,20,000 athletes from 2000 institutions compete across 28 sports and Olympic disciplines. By partnering with reputed high-performance institutes like the Inspire Institute of Sport (IIS) and Abhinav Bindra Targeting Performance (ABTP), young athletes get the opportunity to experience what the next level of sports performance and training can be like.

While this seems like a drop in the bucket for a nation the size of India, this augurs well for our next generation of athletes. Let's take fencing as an example.

In May 2017, India's C. A. Bhavani Devi became the first Indian to win a gold medal at the Turnoi Satellite Fencing Championship held at Reykjavik, Iceland. She is now on her way to becoming the first Indian Olympic fencer.

We have been seeing almost 250 fencers, who are school students, participate on an average every year at the SFA Championships alone. Giving these kids the opportunity to compete at well organized sports competitions on a regular basis plus boosting their performance analysis with insights driven by data will further strengthen their game in the coming years.

With the Indian government’s latest announcement on inclusion of sports as part of the official school curriculum, children will now have regular access to playgrounds and training facilities which are bound to boost the overall fitness and activity levels amongst kids.



2. Government Initiatives


The 'Khelo India program' was introduced in 2018 with an aim to strengthen the sports culture in India at the grassroots level by providing a healthy, competitive environment for a wide range of sports played in our country. The main aim of this program is to raise the standard of competition at the school and college level with regular, organized sporting events.

With an all-round focus on developing all elements related to a robust grassroots sports system in the country, the 'Khelo India' program works on 12 basic areas.

Image Source: kheloindia.gov.in


The program was very well received in its initial editions, with Star Sports coming on board as the broadcaster to further boost the profile and exposure of the tournament. In this year’s budget, Khelo India has been given an increase of over 54% in the allocated budget with a sum of Rs 890.42 crore as compared to Rs 578 crore in the previous year.

With a consistent focus on providing top quality sporting competitions across school and college levels, combined with strong policy-led initiatives, the system will begin identifying those young athletes who have the potential of winning accolades on the international sporting stage.

3. Corporate / Private Sector Involvement


Building a strong grassroots base is key to then pulling deserving athletes further up the ladder. This gives us that set of coveted athletes who represent India at multiple international events including the Olympics. Their performance further sparks a passion for these sports amongst the younger generation and encourages more children to actively pursue sports, build a base for a strong sporting nation.

But taking an athlete with potential and grooming the athlete through high performance training and coaching does not come cheap.

As a child starts training at a young age, with every growing year, the expenses towards sports equipment, transport, food and nutrition, injuries and rehab, expenses for participating in international tournaments continue to grow. Many children and their parents let go of pursuing professional sports training merely due to the financial burden it comes with.

This is where the corporate and private sector step in to further boost and supplement initiatives by the government and the grassroots movement in harnessing potential medal winners.

This involvement comes in the form of sponsors, not-for-profit foundations and direct grassroots investment.

For example, an article published by businesstoday.in mentions that Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ) spent around Rs. 8 to 10 crores over a span of 4 years on supporting athletes leading up to London 2012 Olympics.

By the time the 2016 Rio Olympics approached, The Economic Times reported that OGQ had 70 athletes on their roster with 46 of them being focused upon exclusively for Rio 2016 Olympics.


The Inspire Institute of Sport, an initiative of JSW Sports, has a fully equipped, in-residence, world class training centre for young athletes who train with the best coaches and training staff from across the world.



A good show at the Olympics by athletes nurtured through these various government and private initiatives, coupled with the right kind of motivators from the government and all stakeholders involved in the grassroots movement creates almost a self-sustaining cycle of sports and talent development in the country.


Source: Sports For All



4. Transformation of Community Sports & Recreation

Recent studies indicate that Indians are not consistent at sports or physical activity. Based on research commissioned by Virat Kohli and PUMA India in 2018, 1/3rd of India did not participate in any physical activity even once in the span of 1 year.


The FIT INDIA MOVEMENT was launched by the government to encourage people to include some physical activity and sports in their daily lives to stay fit and active. Through various drives, celebrity associations, and campaigns, people were encouraged to take up daily physical activity to improve the overall health and fitness profile of the country.


As mentioned in the 2019 FICCI EY report on fitness and slimming, the overall fitness market was estimated at around US$14 billion in 2017. One of the biggest drivers for this industry to grow is the increasing focus on personal health and well-being. As the urban population moves towards a more sedentary lifestyle owing to travel times, pollution and work-induced stress, more and more people are looking for ways to use fitness and recreational sport to reduce stress. (Source: indiatoday.in)


While the ongoing pandemic has drastically slowed down outdoor activities, gyms, and sports clubs, it has also opened many new avenues for children and adults to continue to train from the safety of their homes. It has made us lean on technology to transform the way we generate and consume fitness activities.


Fitness enthusiasts are now adapting to working out from home. Parents are looking at online programs for keeping their kids connected to their favorite sports and finding these as useful outlets of energy, which is crucial for children. For example, SFAPLAY.COM offers online sports and fitness training that make it easy for anyone to train online and make sure they do not miss out on being physically fit.


These platforms and online programs make sure that we do not lose the connection with regular physical activity and are ready to bounce back when the time is right. They also make it easier for people to access sport and physical activity from the comfort of their homes, irrespective of the availability of a playground – thus making it easier for more and more people to continue to stay fit.


5. When Grassroots Sport Embraces Data & Analytics Fueled by Technology


We all remember Brad Pitt in Moneyball (2011). The movie that familiarized many with the concept of data and analytics in sport. While the practice of relying on sports data and analytics-based decision-making has been prevalent for years, only recently has this powerful tool been embraced by almost all major sports leagues, teams, coaches, and sportspersons. The biggest franchises in India are now allocating significant portions of their budgets to data-driven analytics for their players to get the upper edge on the field and seeing results.

Now, imagine when this scientific tool percolates down to our young athletes, the raw talent that is yet to discover their true sports potential. When we empower the youngest of our athletes and their coaches, the bottom of our sports performance pyramid, with insights that can shape the way they train, mold the way they approach their game, we create a powerful system of identifying and nurturing future champions.

For example, at the SFA Championships, a combination of digital scoring systems, statistical analysis, and match video-based analysis was put into place to help all participating athletes understand their match performances. This in turn exposed coaches, match officials, and school PE teachers to new ways of looking at on-field performances and future potential of their athletes.

Source: The SFA CHAMPIONSHIPS by Sports For All

With over 2,00,000 minutes of video content and over 8 million data points captured across 28 sports at the SFA Championships, these athletes and schools have unprecedented access to insights that can help shape their sporting future.

Today, more and more sports institutions, schools that pride on a strong sports focus, and academies working with young athletes are relying on sports data, in-training video, and analytics-based insights to design the training and development strategy for their wards.



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