Six athletes fight for social change through sport

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Sport means different things to different people. While for some it’s a way to stay in shape or pursue a passion, for others it’s a way to enrich life through greater social inclusion.

In India, only 5.56% of the population is “sports literate”. To put numbers, only about 57 lakh people out of 125 million people are engaged in sports, directly and indirectly.

While the development of the sport is in its infancy in the country, there are athletes who are trying to convert their passion to influence others.

Here are some of those personalities:

Jyamuna and Sharmilata Pradhan

Sisters Jyamuna and Sharmilata Pradhan had to drop out of school to help their parents, farmers who could not afford to pay for their education.

Sharmilata, 19, whose favorite player is Christiano Ronaldo, dreams of playing football for India.

Amid all their struggles, the girls discovered an unlikely passion which they used to transform the lives of other girls in the village football.

Their success has inspired others and 19 girls from two neighboring villages frequently travel to Jiridikia in Odisha for training.

The change the sisters sparked is also being felt off the pitch. The girls have launched a campaign movement against child marriage and promoting the use of sanitary pads and other safe menstrual practices.

Sarita Chauray

Sarita Chauray, from Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh, was blind from birth. She has been athletic since childhood and in 2017 participated in a training camp for blind judokas organized by the NGO Sightsavers India.

In the junior 44 kg category, she won her first bronze medal in the 6th National Blind and Para Judo Championships in 2018. This inspired her to take part in trials in Gorakhpur the following year, where she was selected to play for the country.

Sarita Chauray

In 2019, she represented India and won bronze at the Commonwealth Judo Championship for the Visually Impaired in Birmingham, UK.

She believes national and state-level training like that provided by Sightsavers India is crucial for her to pursue her dreams.

Aditya K.V.

Delhi-based Aditya KV helps children with intellectual and physical disabilities to enjoy sports and outdoor activities through his NGO Umoya Sports. Aditya was tired of his 9am to 5pm corporate job and wanted to engage in an activity that can bring about positive change in the community around him.

He started Umoya Sports in 2017. The non-profit organization offers sports programs for students with intellectual and physical disabilities.

Aditya with some students in the playground.

Umoya’s goal is to help children with special needs and foster a spirit of inclusiveness. The NGO works with schools that teach children with disabilities and implements the program to train them in various sports like basketball, football, cricket, badminton, athletics and yoga.

Ananya Kamboj

Ananya Kamboj is a young athlete who, through her involvement in various empowerment programs and initiatives, has become a strong advocate for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

A regular basketball and football player, Ananya has observed how some sports coaches promote the idea that girls cannot play sports.

The Chandigarh teenager credits her achievements to the Football for Friendship programme. In 2017, when India hosted the U-17 Men’s Football World Cup, Ananya participated in a writing competition organized by Mission XI Million, an AIFF (All India Football Federation) program promoted by the Indian government to popularize football in India.

Ananya Kamboj, who was part of the Football for Friendship program as a young journalist. (Image source: Ananya Kamboj)

She wrote an article about how football fosters global friendships and relationships. Her winning essay led to her being selected as a “young reporter” for the Football for Friendship (F4F) program in St. Petersburg, Russia. F4F is an annual international children’s social program that brings together children from over 60 countries to cultivate respect for different cultures and nationalities through football.

Ananya has also launched its own program called “The Sport to Lead” to help girls and women understand their rights and overcome gender inequalities.

Prabhat Sinha

Originally from Mhaswad, a picturesque village in the Satara district of Maharashtra, Prabhat Sinha was unaware of the existence of physical activities or competitive games until he moved to the United States.

Years later, when he traveled to his hometown, he realized that things were still the same – children were not exposed to sports, physical training was lacking in most schools and children were running in open and steep spaces. It was then that he decided to make a change of scenario and launched the Mann Deshi Champions.

In 2017, Prabhat quit his job in the United States and devoted all his efforts to further transforming the track into a full-fledged sports academy with a large swimming pool, a 400-meter running track, separate fields for football and volleyball, a wrestling akhada, long jump pit and a 5,000 square foot gymnasium.

Today, the Mann Deshi Champions program identifies young girls and boys from some of the remotest and most remote rural areas of Maharashtra and provides them with free training in the sport of their choice.

Edited by Affirunisa Kankudti
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