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Millennium Post

Of vanishing fields and wasted potential

Without glamorous victories, sportspersons in India are rarely given their due. This travesty is further amplified by the lack of sporting arenas, quality coaches and effective resources.

"There are many pressing matters in our country which require our attention. These are economic growth, poverty, food security, healthcare, among various other challenges. Being a sportsman, I will talk about sports, health and fitness of India, for it has a telling impact on the Indian economy. My vision is a healthy and fit India. Jab swasth hai yuva, tabh desh mein kuchh hua (When the young are fit, only then can progress happen in the nation). India is set to emerge as the youngest average-age nation in the world by 2020. There is an assumption that as we are young we will be fit, but we are wrong. We are the diabetic capital of the world with over 75 million people affected by this disease. In obesity, we place third globally. According to a United Nations report, the impact of non-communicable diseases on the Indian economy from the year 2012 to 2030 will be 6.3 trillion dollars."

Unable to speak in the Rajya Sabha, batting maestro Sachin Tendulkar took to social media in December 2017 to highlight an issue which, for long, has not been discussed adequately. At a time when Indian athletes are representing their country in the 18th Asian Games in Indonesia, a question arises on how any discussion on sports is only restricted to achievements, money, glamour and commercialisation.

Smriti Malhotra, mother of seven-year-old Jhanvi is a worried parent. It is not that her daughter is not bright or underperforming academically. It is her health that is her concern. At the age of just five, it was found that Jhanvi suffered from poor vision. Today, she is wearing spectacles for close to two years, a scenario which breaks the heart of her parents. The family ophthalmologist has recommended certain eye exercises to ensure that the power of the natural vision does not deteriorate further.

"Jhanvi is our first child and her being unfit at such a young age is heartbreaking. We are now trying to make amends in her daily routine – instead of spending time indoors, she spends more time outdoors" – the pain and disappointment felt by Jhanvi's family is not a one-off case. It is estimated that one out of every six teenagers today is grappling with poor vision. In a worrying trend, the situation shows no signs of improvement.

There is another side to the story. Aged just 13, Rohan Khanna weighs 80 kilograms. His parents, though concerned about his obesity, still consider it as baby fat and hope that in the coming years he will surely reduce his weight.

Rohan too seems to be less worried about his health. "In a few months, I will join the gym and lose all the fat," he says confidently.

Obesity among children results in high cholesterol levels which then causes the onset of ailments like cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. According to medical experts, poor lifestyle among the youth is resulting in their failing health, which, if not addressed, can result in a public health emergency. Among poor lifestyle factors, poor diet, lack of proper sleep and exercise are considered to be the foremost detriments.

Taking cognizance of the adverse health effects, junk food may have been banned from Delhi school canteens. However, a lot more needs to be done. According to a survey conducted by private medical institutes among 550 school-going students of Delhi, about one-third of the students are not getting an adequate amount of sleep. Based on the study, the major reason for the lack of sleep is late-night television viewing and usage of internet services.

According to the medical experts, this bad lifestyle which many urban children are adopting is resulting in an increased risk of heart attack or diabetes, at the young age of late 20's to early 30's.

According to the study by Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) Delhi, Type-2 diabetes is rapidly growing in Delhi slums, even more cautionary are the signs that it is also engulfing young adolescents aged between 10 and 19 years.

Based on the research by MAMC, about 30 out of 1,000 adolescents surveyed have Type-2 diabetes while 70 out of 1,000 adolescents have hypertension. In addition to this, 12.7 per cent of the adults surveyed had diabetes and 24 per cent had hypertension.

The debilitating impacts of failing health among the youth cannot be starker. According to a survey by Child Rights & You (CRY), approximately 50 per cent of children in slums are underweight and malnourished while 30 per cent of the young in the city are overweight and obese.

Understanding the importance of physical activities, sports and fitness in realising the progress of the nation, the Central Government has now buckled up to ensure certain measures.

In coordination with the Sports Ministry, the Union HRD Ministry is now planning to reduce the syllabus among CBSE schools to compensate it with more physical activities. There have also been plans to encourage the youth to participate in rigorous Army training. The plan has not been fully implemented because of the huge capital involved in the project.

Yoga is being actively promoted for both physical and mental well-being. No less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, on several occasions, has urged the Indian youth across various platforms to come out and play. Regionally too, there are plans to promote sportsmanship, health and fitness.

Our nation's sporting powerhouse Haryana has opened various sports nurseries in government schools where the talent of budding sportspersons is identified and then further nurtured. There is also a police training programme that has been introduced by the state where not only will the physical fitness of the participants be prioritised but the programme will also provide employment for the future.

Even as a start has been made, difficulties continue to exist. One of the main points of criticism with regards to India hosting major sporting events like Commonwealth Games, Asian Games or even the Olympics is the shameful condition of stadiums after the games are over.

During the question hour session in the Lok Sabha, a question was raised to acting Finance Minister Piyush Goyal on the poor state of stadiums in Ranchi, a venue for the 2016 National Games. The Minister in his reply assured that under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the public sector enterprises will invest a sizeable amount of money to maintain the stadiums which can then be used by the local residents.

For long, there have been reports on how the poor maintenance of stadiums has resulted in it being used for miscellaneous purposes other than sports. The Nehru Stadium in Gurugram, the richest city in Haryana today, lies in utter neglect even as plans to refurbish the stadium are pending in bureaucratic processes for more than two years. Recently, a hockey tournament was held in the stadium with a broken astro-turf. There was participation despite the fact that the players could have been critically injured.

Another challenge is the visibly shrinking number of open spaces and fields, especially in urban India, that extinguishes the possibility of new players emerging from the grassroots level.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, there must be a minimum nine square kilometres per person. Mumbai has 0.88 square kilometres per person and Bengaluru has six square kilometres per person. Encroachments and open spaces being used for dumping garbage are often reported from major Indian metros.

The shortage of open spaces was recently witnessed in Gurugram. Alleging that the government is trying to deliberately deprive over 70 footballers of their field, budding sportsmen along with their head coach have begun a hunger strike. The entire controversy surrounds large swatches of land at Ghamroj village in the outskirts of Gurugram. For more than two years, this land was being used by the residents of nearby villagers as a football nursery. In the last month of 2017, however, the forest department, on the pretext that the land was public property, began planting trees in the area. The public officials have stated categorically that the land is a public property and there is a deliberate attempt to encroach the land from the government that did not go well with the budding footballers.

"Even though the change is in the air there is still a popular belief that padhoge likhonge hoge nawab, kheloge kudoge hoge kharab. In our country, there is investment and showering of sportspersons only after s/he wins. There is a requirement, at least by the government, to invest in basics, like creating more fields, coaches and equipment," says Ramesh Yadav, a physical education teacher in a public school in Gurugram.

Citius, Altius and Fortius (Faster, Higher and Stronger) was a term coined by the father of modern Olympics Baron Pierre De Coubertin. More than hundred years after this phrase came to the fore, its relevance extends beyond the sporting arena.

Sports, health and fitness are subjects that affect all generations and, irrevocably, the country. It, therefore, becomes significant that we keep the sportsperson in us alive even when we are not competing in the arena of global competitive sports.

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