Sports, to channelise youth energy
The move by citizen groups to come together and fight to save the last few open spaces in the city is a welcome one. Good governance demands as much participation from civil society as it demands responsible behaviour from these authorities. When the one fails, it becomes incumbent on the other to take up cudgels for the public good.
Our sprawling megalopolis is fast losing its open spaces, thanks to the builder-politician-underworld nexus. Open spaces are the lungs of the city and their absence will choke its residents to a slow death. This is easily overlooked by those who exploit the city to make filthy lucre. Worse, these individuals have enough clout to silence the sane voices that try to be heard above the sound of the bulldozer.
If political mileage is anything to go by, more than half the city population consists of people below 35. They form a large and sustainable vote bank and cannot be ignored. Mumbai is home to the largest slum population in the country. Almost half the city’s population lives in slums. This is enough to flag up the potential time bomb that we could be sitting on. Slum youth, by and large, consist of unemployed dropouts who live on the fringes of mainstream society. Given the right opportunity, they can develop into responsible citizens contributing to the growth the country. Denied their basic human rights, they could fall prey to the numerous socials ills that besiege their surroundings. These vulnerable youth have tremendous abuse potential. It is time civil society did something about it. It’s either pay back or pay the price.
We see sport as a great leveller. Rewards on the sports field come with performance, not position. Competitive sport is a wonderful way to channelise the unspent energy of the youth and engage them in productive activity. Sport can be used as a tool to build character and life skills. Our vision is to create a culture where all children are given the opportunity to take part in competitive sport. Through this they will be inducted into leadership roles and taught the value of team work and fair play. France’s World Cup-winning football star Zinedine Zidane is case in point. The son of immigrant Algerian parents, young Zizou grew up in a poor Marseilles suburb. He may have lacked much by way of material pleasures, but what he did not lack was opportunity and a lot of space. He learned his football amidst hunger, poverty and alienation. He was able to channelise his energies on the football field, and today he is widely considered one of the greatest football fields, and today he is widely considered one of the greatest football players in the world.
We need all the possible help we can get in ensuring that the city’s 1.5 million slum kids have adequate space for sports and recreation. It is our moral duty to ensure that they are not denied their right to play. NGOs like ours have to pay for the grounds we use at the market rate of depend on the largesse of private institutions. That is simply not the way forward. Public grounds should be accessible to all sections of society and a concerted polity to see that they are not misused should be implemented.
The BMC needs to take a long term view of this problem. Priority should be accorded to project that will affect the ethos of the city, and not only to wealthy housing societies. Open spaces provide the necessary greenery as well as the opportunity for people to express themselves through sports and arts. It is a well-documented fact that the more open spaces a city has for people of all ages to hangout, the less crime-prone it becomes.
(The writer is the Project Head (Sports) with NGO Salaam Bombay)