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May 06, 2021 Thursday 12:46:50 PM IST

Fitness Challenge for the Nation

Rajagiri Round Table

India’s further economic growth and progress will happen only when its citizens are educated, healthy and skilled. Health can be attained by nutritious food, quality medical care and most importantly physical fitness.   The rising graph of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that includes diabetes, hypertension, heart ailments and cancer is a cause for concern. NCD’s causes 41 million deaths globally every year accounting for 71% of all deaths. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates deaths due to NCDs will rise to 55 million in 2030.  In India 5.8 mn die every year due to NCDS or 1 in 4 Indians die of it before the age of 70.

In sports, we are still unable to produce champions and medalists in global events such as Olympics or Asian or Commonwealth games, excepting a few isolated successes in weightlifting, shooting etc.

The pandemic has curtailed the physical activities of children and nation’s fitness is in peril. Physical fitness will guard children from many common diseases as well as protect them from NCDs in future. So there is an urgent need to bring them back to the playgrounds as soon as possible. The Fit India movement has raised hopes of raising the fitness levels of children and adults.

In this context, the 70th Rajagiri Round Table Conference titled Fitness Challenge for the Nation was held as a Zoom Meet on 16th April 2021 and experts deliberated on proper implementation of physical education  (PE) programmes in schools and colleges, grooming future Olympic medalists and world class athletes and promoting fitness.

Physical and mental fitness are equally important for the overall well being of an individual and it is all the more required for success in sports and games. As with any good habit, physical fitness should be imbibed by children from home and school. Yet Physical Education (PE) is reduced to just one or two hours a week in schools and girls don’t get the opportunity to see a playground after class IX, according to Judeson Peter, Physical Education instructor with over two decades of experience.  “Even in Kendriya vidyalayas, state level sports players are inducted as PE teachers who don’t have the experience to train students. In Maharashtra, I have found teachers of other subjects taking children out for playing,” Judeson Peter added.

The Union Government has taken several initiatives to promote sports and fitness in the country but several schools are yet to implement it properly. Dr S Premananda Singh, Assistant Professor, National Sports University said that in Manipur many CBSE schools don’t follow a PE curriculum.  “Every school and college should have a physical education department,” he said. And he felt that there should be one governing body to standardize PE in the country. A discussion regarding this was held with Sports Minister and officials, he said.

All Study, No Play

People believe that sport is meant for only students who are backward in studies. Playing sports is not to test or gain physical strength. “People only look at physical aspects of sports, but you can’t win a game without a strong and un-fluctuating mind,” according to Tinu Yohannan, former Indian cricketer and coach. Character is also important for a sportsperson. “When facing tough situations or crisis on the field, a player develops character. You can win a few games without character but if you have to be loved or respected as a good sportsman, you need character,” he added.

Generally, parents and teachers do not promote sports and give the feeling that studies are all important.” But I started running marathons at the age of 45 after a sedentary, inactive life. I found that it increased my confidence, positivity, efficiency and productivity at work,” according to Nixon Joseph, President and COO of SBI Foundation, who completed 50 full marathons recently.

Importance of Playing

A child not interested in taking up sports as a career should still devote time for sports.  Parents discourage children from playing when they don’t show the talent or ability for it. Every child should be allowed to play sports and games, according to Tinu Yohannan.  “Anyone who has played a sport or game is not a loser but only a gainer. It may be a smallest happy feeling of scoring a goal, or taking a wicket or netting the basket.  At the end of the day, the child should go back home with happy feelings,” he said.  If students are involved in sports, their memory retention levels, cognition, comprehension levels will go up, Nixon Joseph said.

Sports Coaching and Funding

India government has launched an ambitious programme called Target Olympics Podium Scheme (TOPS) to get a dozen medals in the upcoming Olympics. The initiative is supported by Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds. However, many athletes and sportsmen continue to lament over lack of coaching and funding to emerge successful.  Trisha Vinod, a top ranking tennis player in under- 16 and 19 categories moved from Karnataka to Kerala but didn’t get the required support from government. “We ended up reaching nowhere. We don’t have really qualified coaches. Players have to shell out money for everything including food, travel, accommodation, day to day expenses even when they are playing for the state,” she said. She had to move to Thailand and other nations to get expert coaching.

R Nagaraj former tennis star, founder of R Nagaraj Tennis Centre in Mysore said that winning medals is not easy in any sport and we do face problems of quality coaching and funds. However, after the victory of Saina Nehwal and PV Sindhu, several new badminton indoor courts were set up in Mysore. Now badminton courts out number tennis courts.  Scholarships are given to players who get ranking at junior levels. “American universities are welcoming such students and tuition fees are free. India Government is providing more sports quota for public sector jobs and  sports management courses  enable sportspersons  to earn a living either becoming coaches or management of events.”

Neighbourhood Sports

Interest in sports can evolve only if there are indoor and outdoor facilities in the neighbourhood and that requires development of infrastructure in a decentralized manner extending from panchayat to district and state level.  With schools not able to provide sufficient sports grounds, many private academies are coming up in neighbourhoods that fulfil the need for parents and children to devote a few hours per day to play not necessarily with the intention to become a professional, according to Arun V Nair, Founder of Sporthood.

Fitness Regime

The Union Sports Ministry has launched the Fit India movement on August 29, 2019 to make physical fitness a 365 day affair in our life. “Fit India aims to make healthy individuals and families. The three elements of Fit India are Fit Body, Fit Mind and Fit Environment,” according to Dr G Kishore, Principal and Regional Director of SAI LNCPE, Trivandrum.  Let every school devote one period for physical activity per day and let teachers also get physically strong, he added.  Fit India has a basket of activities including exercises, martial arts, dances, sporting events and movements, Dr Kishore added.

Integrated PE

The major challenge remains of integrating PE into our school and college curriculum. Seema Subodh, renowned Fitness Trainer based in Bahrain, said that 90 minutes per day has to be devoted for physical activities. That will give sufficient time for warm up, workouts, play and cool down.  More importantly, there should be trained PE teachers in all educational institutions, according to Judeson Peter. “Now a PE teacher is appointed in upper primary section only if there are 500 or more students while there are no qualified teachers in primary classes,” he said.

Seema Subodh said the school should take into consideration the interest of the child in sports and their physical agility. “Some kids may be flexible, some may have good speed, some endurance and PE activities have to be chosen accordingly.” Motivation is important for physical activity in children and adults. They should not be compared with others but against their own performance. They can be rewarded on attaining certain goals in a month or year with T-shirts or small gifts which they will be proud of. They should be monitored for performance and weaknesses corrected by trainers. A runner frequently suffering injuries may have to work on flexibility and while another child not improving on speed may require strength training. “Ultimately, every PE teacher has to use a trial and error method to improve the physical performance of a child,” Seema added.

Yoga has become an essential component of PE as it gives mental, emotional and physical stability to any individual, according to K Reshma Shaji, certified Yoga and Fitness trainer in Doha, Qatar. There has been an attitudinal change in people about Yoga after Prime Minister Narendra Modi promoted it in a big way, she added.


#Qualifed, Trained PE teachers should be appointed in schools and colleges for all levels

#One and a half hours should be devoted for physical activities per day in educational institutions

#Children should be encouraged to play any sport of their choice irrespective of whether they want to become professional players

#Government should ensure more funding and coaching support for talented sportspersons

#More quality stadiums have to be set up at panchayat and district levels for decentralized development of sports

#Teachers should also be physically fit and engaged in fitness activities to motivate students

#Every player is a gainer and not a loser. Sports should become integral part of school curriculum

#Engagement in sports has been proven to improve cognition, memory retention and alertness

#There should be a single unified governing body for PE in India setting standards, guidelines and coordination of PE in education