The Plane Pitch: School and Sports Amidst Covid in J&K

Boys in their pre-teens and teens, sit outdoors, huddled together on their phones amidst Covid-19 in J&K | Picture By Faisal Bashir for Kashmir Observer

The virtual world accommodated on its flat screen, the huge responsibility of imparting education but this was done with little care for sports

WHEN the world presented to us its sublime potentials by blocking access to living, humans were quick to adapt as best as possible. In this new reality, the digital came to the rescue as the physical remained vulnerable and far fetched. Education too couldn’t escape the blow and the casualties were our future generation. Nonetheless, the virtual world accommodated on its flat screen, the huge responsibility of imparting education. Three years into the lockdown in Kashmir after the abrogation of Article 370 and the Covid-19 Pandemic, education has been on a survival mode. However, as the alien has started becoming familiar, virtual education doesn’t seem all too bad of an option. But this adaptation has come at a cost that has its causes in our outdated expectations from school. Why is it that it was possible for exams to be conducted in an offline mode and schools did little to mobilise students for periodic sports activities?

It is because of our insistence on the value of academic excellence and our naive dismissal of sports as leisure.

With the emergence of new and quite fallible standards of life, success and failure, many activities and phenomena that were otherwise indispensable to human life lost their importance and were consigned to peripheries. The atmosphere of competition and mass copying that man landed himself in, left little scope for the overall development of human capabilities and maturation of human talents other than those needed for academic excellence. Whereas this unchecked, undesirable and at times regressive tendency blurred other aspects of human life, it had the most conspicuous impact on sports activity, the conceptualization of sports and the importance attached to sports in human life.

In an enthusiastic overemphasis on academic excellence and undue stress on securing a safe career, sports activities went on to be demonised and engagement with sports went on to be seen as antithetical to academics, good and decent life and ability to deliver on other fronts of life. It may be contested that this behaviour was specific to third world countries, but the damage it did in terms of its short and long term consequences have been realised and acknowledged very recently. It is believed that the variegated diseases, both physical and mental, that have cropped up in recent times and have led to huge loss of life could have been easily circumnavigated and mitigated, only if we had shown little interest in sports and assigned to it, its legitimate place in the scheme of human life.

What do we make of this indifference and detestation for sports? Why is it necessary to restore the component of active sporting in our lives and what are the ways and means of attaining the same? Let’s begin with the realization that health, with its physical, mental and social components is of primary and indispensable importance in any human endeavour and undertaking. Who can deny the importance of health and more ignorantly, who can deny its physical, psychological and social components? In sports, we come across unique opportunities and provisions where the physical, mental and social dimensions of health intersect and each is restored to its equilibrium state. Thorough and extensive research conducted over decades has revealed beyond doubt that sporting activities are helpful in boosting mood, reducing anxiety and depression, improving sleep, honing mental abilities, increasing self confidence and building managerial skills. Is it any wonder that sports, with such a spectrum of mental health benefits can be of tremendous therapeutic value in stabilizing and sustaining mental health. This is the precise reason that sports have been actively tried out in addressing the issues of depression and stress. It has also proven to be of immense therapeutic and rehabilitative value in treating the menace of drug abuse, in pulling back youngsters from this monstrous habit and to induce in them a new wave of self confidence, happiness and overall well-being.

Besides these visible benefits of sports, it also plays a pivotal role in the process of socialization. It ensures optimal social grooming of an individual. Sports and sporting activities have proven so seminal to social building and smoothening the process of socialization that a separate field of study in sociology under the title of “Sports Sociology” or “The Sociology of Sports” has carved its niche in academic parlance. The existence of this discipline itself amply underscores the importance and crucial role played by sports in its social aspect. Here the context is much more nuanced and complex than the physical and psychological aspect/s. One observes, even on cursory look, that sports has the unique and versatile capacity of bringing and stringing together people across the social divide.

Our era, as it stands festered by the ills of racialism, Casteism, regionalism and other divisive ideologies, stands in dire need of panacea and sustainable solution to these ills. Sports is capable of not only treating them superficially, but in eliminating and destabilizing the very foundations on which these demons stand. The very entry into the playfield unites players from all their ethnic and racial loyalties and obliges them to dissolve their identities in the larger pool, co-operating and co-existing with other players and therefore escaping the narrow identity constructions. These horizons are thrown further open on the international arena wherein one even transcends the national boundaries and despite playing for their own country, a player becomes a living symbol of globalization and universalism. Sports also plays a role of its own in the process of socialisation and playground becomes the bedrock of a healthy and dynamic society, where the seeds of interdependence, mutual respect and co-existence are sown within the very hearts and minds of players.

If such are the merits of sports, why do parents in Kashmir deem sports as something antithetical to a successful future? There are innumerable instances of students engaged with sports outshining those who are too bookish and have a conception of education that leaves no space open for physical development and sporting activities. But one may add a note of caution here and that concerns our structural facilities and systemic approaches to sports and academia. The lack of sports academies, absence of proper counselling cells which could have guided students to harmoniously interweave their sports and academic lives, has only facilitated an imbalance. What is needed is to have positive perception and estimation of sports: having proper policies, infrastructure and logistics in place to encourage the participation of youth in sports activities, so that they are academically efficient as well as players of excellence in the playfield of life.

  • Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir  

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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