Making India a sporting superpower | Women’s inclusiveness in sports key: Rijiju

NEW DELHI, Jan 23: ‘Khelega India Toh Khilega India’ – is simple mantra of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for youth, has been the driving force behind transforming the perception of sports in India in last few years, said Union MoS (I/C) for Youth Affairs & Sports Kiren Rijiju.

The sports, perceived once only as an extra-curricular activity by most, is now taking center stage. Strong schemes adopted by his Ministry, 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 their 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 Govt has worked with the aim of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Sabka Vishwas” resulting in a paradigm shift in embracing issues relating  to girls and women in sports.

Performances of women athletes have sealed many places in Indian sporting folklore over the year. Most importantly, they showed to the world that Indian women are up for challenge could take on the world. These spirited performances coupled with Ministry’s reforms 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. 43% of Indian athletes who have qualified for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics are women, he proudly noted.

To make India a sporting superpower, the need 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 players at base level and at no cost can they be left behind. The Khelo India Scheme aimed at infusing sporting culture and achieving sporting excellence has played a vital role in last three years. The Khelo India Scheme exclusively focuses on barriers faced by girls & women in sporting activities, and creating mechanism to overcome them to increase their participation. We have had a 161% increase in women participation at 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 by 223%.

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 (a 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 great Olympic ideal of ‘Citius, Altius, Fortius’ meaning Faster, Higher, Stronger! (PIB)

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