The importance of sports and games is being increasingly recognised in India, from both the educational and social points of view. More and more funds are being allocated for encouraging sports in schools, colleges and universities; in fact, sports have become an essential part of the curricula.
Time was when only a few students, who were fond of games like hockey, football, cricket or tennis, were allowed special facilities. But now regular programmes are drawn up in all educational institutions to persuade as many students as possible, regardless of special aptitudes, to participate in games, and not merely watch matches occasionally to cheer up their favourite teams or attend the prize distribution functions at the end of a sports season.
Educationists and others have come to the conclusion that it is in the interest of society as a whole that adequate facilities should be provided, depending, of course, upon the availability of funds, for games and sports for the country's youth, both boys and girls.
Sports foster friendship and amity. Nor does the belief hold well any more that those who take part in sports or games would be no good at studies, and that each year their absence from the class or shortage of lectures would be condoned because they can either attend to their studies or be on the playing field for some game or the other.
It is felt that apart from some exceptional cases of students showing extraordinary talent and skill in certain games, or students who are expected to be high on the merit list in university examinations, most other students should play one game or other, not necessarily for achieving distinctions, but for the sake of sport.
Several factors need to be taken into account in this connection. First, physical fitness is of the utmost importance for everyone, young and old. Participation in games and sports invariably ensures good health, fitness and, generally, freedom from ailments of various types.
Also, unless the human body is kept in smooth trim and in an overall fit condition, even the brain will refuse to co-operate after some time. Actually, physical fitness is essential for proficiency in studies and for winning distinctions in examinations. Ailing bodies do not make for sharp brains. Exercise in some form or another is necessary, and sports provide an easy method to ensure such fitness.
Secondly, regular participation in sports provides a healthy channel for diversion of energies. Wherever students and other youth participate in sports regularly, misdirection of youthful vigour is much less and the tendency to indulge in indiscipline and mischief is curbed.
Young people have surplus energy, and if this is fruitfully utilised, the foundations are laic for a healthy society, where people are fully aware of the need for discipline, co-operative effort, team spirit, the cult of sportsmanship, of joint devotion to the achievement of a common goal in collaboration with others. They also learn to cultivate the vital quality of learning how to work together, to become not only good winners, but also good losers.
Thirdly, the statement that "the battle of Waterloo was won on the playfields of Eton", implying that playing games and the spirit of sportsmanship help to inculcate lasting values, which make for good soldiers, good fighters and good discipline, apart from promoting 100 per cent physical fitness. In British schools and colleges, the fullest importance is given to sports, especially cricket and football.
The result has been the creation of a healthy, well-developed, disciplined and efficient society in which people know the right proportions in life, put everything in the right perspective, and seldom conduct themselves in an unsporting, ungentlemanly and unbecoming manner. Playing the game on the playground naturally instructs people to play the game of life in the right spirit, which is what matters most, not victory or defeat.
According to sociologists, "society gains in many ways when the government encourages sports and games everywhere, provides playgrounds, the necessary equipment and other facilities, and rewards outstanding sportsmen, so as to encourage others also to play games. The crime graph dips, which means that the incidence of general crimes decreases because the right spirit and the right approach to things is developed on the playground.
Sport, it has been said, is not only a manifestation of animal energy of surplus strength to develop more strength; it is, in addition, a safe and wholesome outlet for the aggressive spirit in human beings.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines play thus: "to move about in lively or unrestrained or capricious manner, frisk, and flutter." This definition, however, also conveys a wrong concept and a misleading interpretation. In genuine sports there is no question of a "capricious manner"; the aim is to play the game in a fair manner, according to the prescribed rules of which every player is supposed to be fully aware.
Those who violate the rules, play foul or exceed the permissible limits, or indulge in tactics that are unfair, are promptly pulled up by the referee or the umpire. Anyone who refuses to mend his ways or to repeatedly violate the rules is ordered to quit the field and is replaced by another player. This helps to inculcate the habit of respecting the judge and of observing the rules.
While most people concede the importance of sports in a healthy society and under a good government, there has also been much criticism, which is fully justified, too, about the craze, enthusiasm and fervour displayed by people of all ages, especially the country's youth (except the sober elders and duty-conscious officers and employees), whenever cricket matches are being played in India or abroad and wherever India is one of the participants. Work virtually comes to a stop in offices, factories, schools and colleges.
Everyone starts watching to cricket on TV, forget their work and duty, in effect lose themselves mentally in the process; all their attention is concentrated on the ball-by-ball commentaries. At wayside shops, in trains and buses, on ships and in aircraft, it is the same story during the cricket season—people attentively listening to radio commentaries or watching the cricket matches on TV.
Surely, this is not what we mean by sport and sportsmanship. The right description for this habit is "craze". It does not develop any of the values which sports and games inculcate—discipline and playing the game in the right spirit.
Some observers have contended that there is a close link between sports and a country's industrial development and the general progress of society. That is why it is contended, most of the gold medals at the Olympics are bagged by advanced countries such as the U.S.A., Russia and Germany, and Britain too manages to bag a few of them. Of the eastern countries, China and Japan plunder most of the gold and silver medals.
Is there a link also between performance in sport and a country's military might? Militarily, China is the most powerful country in the East, but Japan, which matches the U.S.A. in industrial, especially electronic advancement, does well in sports despite its small size. India is a large country of continental size, and given the proper incentives and the necessary facilities, this country's sportsmen should do well on the sports field, but whether it is the climatic factor, the lack of adequate nutrition and of incentives, our sportsmen do not compare favourably with those of the USA, Russia, Germany and Australia.
In any case, the relatively poor show of our athletes in international competitions does not weaken the case for encouraging sports which help to lay the foundations of a healthy, sound society. The cost is returned several- fold.