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In a fractured society, the Right to Play can act as the social glue

With protectionism becoming a popular sentiment across leading democracies, sports can keep the world together — as it did even in the worst phases of the Cold War era

analysis Updated: Dec 26, 2017 22:34 IST
Siddhartha Upadhyay
Siddhartha Upadhyay
Right to Play,Sachin Tendulkar,Rajya Sabha
Cricket legend and Rajya Sabha member Sachin Tendulkar wants the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill to be amended to include the Right to Play(PTI)

We live in an age of glorious contradictions. Well into the 21st century, millions of children are denied the right to play. Playing is integral to a meaningful and well-rounded childhood. Sport is the best way to constructively channelise the enormous energy in children and hone their talent. Play prepares them to be better citizens. Little wonder then, cricket legend and Rajya Sabha member Sachin Tendulkar wants the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education bill to be amended to include the Right to Play.

Children should play and the rest of us should ensure that their right to play is realised. This is especially relevant in a young country such as India where more than half of the country’s 1.25 billion population is below the age of 25 and more than two-thirds, below 35. But our demographic dividend does not necessarily translate into India being a healthy country. We have one of the highest levels of malnutrition in the world and the lowest public health expenditure, around 1.5 % of the GDP. A sporting society is a healthy society. We, at the moment, though a young nation, are not particularly robust. This is illustrated by the fact that apart from being the global diabetes hotspot, we are the third most obese nation in the world. India is ranked 131st among 188 countries in terms of human development by the 2016 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Programme.

The Right to Play has to be a universal obligation, not just for various governments but also for corporate, private and non-governmental entities. Like music, sport knows no boundaries. There’s no discrimination on the grounds of caste, creed, colour, nationality, gender, sexual preference, or religion. The conduct of those in a playing arena is governed by objective rules. As Canadian author Lorii Myers points out, “True sportsmanship is excellence in motion.”

I have realised that sports is one of the most potent instruments to create an egalitarian society by inculcating a sense of self-worth and fair play in individuals. It also helps integrate the underprivileged with the mainstream by providing them with an inclusive forum, in the process developing their confidence, talent, even leadership skills.

In the last few years, despite being committed to a globalised world, many leading democracies have sought more protection and restricted the movement of people across borders. With protectionism becoming a popular sentiment, identity considerations and radicalism have become stronger. As a result, immigrants are being perceived as evil.

In a fractured society, the Right to Play can act as the social glue. History has lessons for us here. The communists for long thought the Olympics were a capitalist conspiracy till they started participating in them. It was sports that kept the world together even in the worst phases of the Cold War era — but for the US boycott of the 1980 Moscow games and Russia’s tit-for-tat boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Such is the power of sports.

Governments and various other stakeholders in society should come together and make the Right to Play a reality.
Governments should encourage sports by creating enabling conditions, and by improving public health and education infrastructure at the grassroots. They should take ownership of the cause — the right to play— but not own and run sports. Realising the dream of the Right to Play will require a team effort by all members of society, not just the State. We all have to play our part.

Siddhartha Upadhyay is founder and general secretary of the non-profit STAIRS and member, governing council, Sports Authority of India

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Dec 26, 2017 17:38 IST