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Friday, April 06, 2001

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Sports given the short-shrift


TERESA BARAT

FROM about Class IX onwards, students are supposed to buckle down to academic life. From now on, life is hard, life is earnest. Every sinew and muscle is dedicated only to studying. Students have to forgo comics, movies and fooling around and get ready to do serious studying.

Sadly, students also have to give up on sports and games. Blame it on the syllabus, blame it on ambitious parents or blame it on hectic timetables, but the truth is that in the educational arena, sports are an also-ran.

Generally, students from Classes X and XII are exempt from taking part in school matches, especially those held closer to the board exams. For instance, in St. Columba's school in New Delhi, barring participation in athletics, Classes X and XII are left out of the school sports day, a fairly lavish affair.

But it is not only students from senior classes who are given this step motherly treatment when it comes to participation in sports and games.

The general attitude of most schools towards sports is that of indifference. Sports are not taught in a systematic way and little is done to promote sports as an everyday activity. Track and field events are given an airing only when the annual sports day rolls around. Training is minimal and preparation sketchy. Moreover, training and practice are reserved only for the members of the various sport teams and mostly after or before school hours.

Luckily, schools like Mothers' International, Sri Ram School and Gyan Bharati in New Delhi have one period of compulsory physical training a week for all classes. The Sports Authority of India (SAI) has also adopted Mothers' International on the basis of existing infrastructure and talent and is providing free coaching in athletics to selected students. Every year, about five of the school's students are chosen for national-level competitions in table tennis, athletics and basketball.

In co-educational schools, one more factor comes into play. Girls' involvement in sports drops in the higher classes. The fault lies both with the girls and the coaches. For instance, during a sports period in a school in New Delhi, the boys started a football game, hijacking the entire field. When a girl student protested, saying she wanted to play too, the coach told her, "Go join the boys." Fine, but the boys wouldn't pass the ball to her. The coach kindly sent all the girls to do some boring exercises, while the boys had total control of the field.

There is also one more factor that prevents girls from taking an active part in sports, especially in senior classes: they feel more conscious and conscientious. For instance, girls who wouldn't mind swimming otherwise, often feel self-conscious about appearing in a swimsuit in front of their classmates.

But how does being conscientiousness come into the picture?

According to Darshana Bhandari, sports teacher at Mother's International, girls are more sincere and give in more easily to academic pressure. And to top this, the attitude in the Indian psyche still is that studies come first. This means that the sports period is the first one sacrificed for extra studies or cancelled as punishment to erring classes. In short, the sports period is expendable. At a broader level, playing or taking part in games is still not really family activities in India. Look at the pitifully few playing fields and parks in Delhi. It is only once in every four years that the country wakes up to the fact that a country of one billion can win only one medal in the Olympic Games. And it is only once in every four years that India thrills to sports other than cricket. And once every four years we also wonder why we even tried.

The fact is that India is a country where sports heroes are idolised but sports as a career is still considered a big 'No.'

Women's Feature Service

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