He adds that more such initiatives are needed to increase the medal tally of India at international sports events.“The platform will build the value of sports in higher education and is a step towards strengthening India’s position at Olympics, Asian Games, and Commonwealth by identifying and nurturing talent from an early stage,” says Behera. “Since Khelo India Youth Games has been focusing on sportspersons under 17, we now have Khelo India University Games for those above 17 years. The aim of KIUG is to identify and nurture talent and put them in a training/coaching programme that gives them exposure,” adds the minister. The first edition of KIUG is being organised by the Government of Odisha in association with the Sports Authority of India, KIIT University, Association of Indian Universities, National Sports Federation and Indian Olympic Association (IOA) and participating universities.
Lacunae in Sports Culture
The major bottlenecks in stimulating a sports culture have been the lack of career opportunities and financial security that sportspersons typically face. “Things are however changing with better financial pay-outs for sportspersons and an attitudinal shift and Odisha has been at the forefront of this change”, says Behera.
Aptly called the ‘Sports capital of India’, Behera says, the state has been sending a steady stream of players, especially women, to the national teams. Dutee Chand became the third woman to qualify for the 100 metres sprint at the 2016 Olympics. Lilima Minz, Namita Toppo, Deep Grace Ekka, Sunita Lakra and Rashmita Minz were part of the Asia Cup winning hockey team that defeated Japan last year.
Odisha has also hosted many elite sports events in the last few years including the Asian Athletics Championships, Men’s Hockey World Cup, Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships, the Hockey Olympic Qualifiers, among others. Parents being the main decision-makers in a child’s life, need to encourage them to pursue sports. “Sports scholarships and better employment opportunities in multiple sectors will ensure that their future is secure,” Behera says.
Formal Sports Education
“We need a push to offer early formal sports education and encourage sportspersons to opt for higher education,” says Behera. Lack of sufficient sports-related courses at higher education in India is yet another concern, he adds. “We have a long way to go in launching formal sports education. Ideally, it must start from the primary level where children are taught about the basics of their health and exposed to basic sports. At a senior level, they must be offered formal courses in the sports realm.”
There is a need to motivate sportspersons to go for higher education. “Sportspersons are often so focussed in the sport that they ignore academics,” Behera adds.