#HumFitTohIndiaFit is an outstanding campaign initiated by the Indian Sports Minister to bring fitness and health into the spotlight. As a youth-centric country, India definitely needs to focus on ways of channelizing youthful energy towards creative pursuits, one of them being sports.
I don't agree with the cynicism surrounding this campaign. There is no doubt that India is a country of extremes where the majority does not have access to gymnasiums and public sports facilities. And I am aware that the realities of everyday life in India do not provide the masses the time or the inclination to chase such dreams. Having said that, the point here is to motivate and encourage Indians towards health & fitness. As we lead our daily lives, it is very much possible to find time to take a 15-minute walk, use the stairs instead of the lift and do a few push-ups and stretches while at work.
Leveraging celebrities from all walks of life to promote the idea of a #FitIndia is an effective lever to ensure wider reach, across all levels of society. The intent here is to create social momentum around personal fitness & health and to encourage Indians to come out to play. In the long term, as this campaign gathers momentum and trickles down to the masses, its impact on awareness-building around fitness will be huge. Remember, a fit nation means lower healthcare costs, high productivity, and a larger sustainable economic gain.
A one time campaign for political leverage assures limited visibility and insufficient reach and becomes self-limiting in its intent towards building a sporting nation. The need of the hour is a long-term vision and a well-orchestrated plan towards "Building India Into a Sporting Nation".
KEY #01: NATIONAL PROPAGANDA - At the very least, a five-year program needs to be developed that focusses on building sports awareness and educating the masses on the benefits of sports, individual & collective health & fitness. This program has to target India's youth, the educational system, the family structure and the local community. Sports stars across disciplines and at all levels of sport need to be propped up as national heroes. The message of the program has to be both inspirational and aspirational while the frequency needs to be rapid, on point and overbearing. This will lend itself towards building an overarching theme for an 'India of the Future' and build 'national momentum towards sports & fitness'.
KEY #02: SPORTING CULTURE - Culture is 'what happens when no one is looking'. It is the psychological & muscle memory that dictates voluntary and involuntary response expressed through thoughts, actions, interactions and even inactions. Changing culture is a generational effort.
Developing a sporting culture in India requires a planned and systemic effort at the grassroots level, deep inside the heart and mind of India. The efforts have to focus on five core building blocks - i.e. (1) the family structure, (2) the interested athlete, (3) the local community, (4) the available infrastructure and (5) the opportunity to play, express and compete and (5) The guidance and mentorship from passionate and committed coaches.
When India's youth feels encouraged to spend time outdoors, sees the plausibility of balance between education, acknowledges a financially viable sports career and feels rewarded in the local community, a new India will emerge that will make sports a 'way of life'.
KEY #03: NATIONAL SPORTS POLICY - India urgently needs a national sports doctrine reflected through a long-term vision for sports, encapsulated as a set of policy guidelines and regulations and administered through our multi-level sports governance and execution structure. While many people believe that the lack of a national sports policy is the reason for our unplanned & misdirected journey in sports, I understand that this is currently a top priority and work in progress.
The Sports Policy has to fundamentally deliver on - i.e. (1) A Long-Term Vision for Sports, (2) Structural Reforms, (3) Systemic & Individual Integrity, (4) Federation Powers & The Representation of Professionals & Athletes in the Sports Federations, (5) Governance, Management & Execution of the Sports Game Plan and (6) Sports Infrastructure - Upgrade & Access
KEY #04: FUNDING SPORTS - In order to find government funding, sports has to find a way to deliver a larger economic & social impact. A structured plan, a set of outcome measures, accountability and self-sustainability are crucial to the funding vision.
Most importantly, a plan to leverage corporate India for funds has to galvanize and incentivize their continued association - for e.g. - (1) Broaden the CSR definition, (2) Thematic alignment of CSR with sports such that women's empowerment and sports development becomes a possibility or skills development and sports coaching become aligned, (3) Enhance the scope of Section VII of the Companies Act 2013 so that salaries of athletes and coaches could be offset against the 2% CSR requirement and amateur sponsorship and local community support expenses could be included, (4) Rationalize taxes and provide tax waivers on sporting equipment, coaching services, sponsorship amounts and ticket prices for all non cricket sporting events and (5) Create a Leaderboard of Corporate India to track who spends the maximum on Sports through the CSR route in order to provide them visibility and to incentivize inter corporate competition.
KEY #05: GAME PLAN FOR FLAWLESS EXECUTION - As a starting point, India has to, at the very least, upgrade and uplift the profile of our national level competitions in order to improve the experience delivered to the participant and to the audience. This, in turn, will incentivize broadcasters to associate with sports and help bring sponsors and advertisers to the party.
Building and leveraging technology in sports is another critical element that needs to happen in order to drive the back-end of data consolidation, analytics and sporting events. Technical skills and management capability within Sports Federations need to be the fundamental glue that binds the sports ecosystem together. A separate effort needs to be undertaken to incubate iconic sports platforms in India like the Tour De Himalayas, IronMan India, SpartanIndia, BTRIndia so that India starts to simultaneously emerge as a worldwide sporting destination.
The key to success is the centrally driven, integrated and coordinated efforts that are needed to make this happen as part of a Unified Sports Development Program.
Sporadic efforts such as #HumFitTohIndiaFit and #FitIndia deliver incremental spikes and fleeting attention. India needs monumental orchestrated change. This should be the way forward, Mr. Sports Minister.