Take any sports pages in the newspapers these days and what you get to see is a ripe cocktail of competitive battles about who beat whom, who takes drugs and sports has been who now wants to be the next Shahrukh Khan.
The sports industry in the modern day has no place for wimps or middle-aged dandies trying to hide their paunches with twilight walks around Independence Square and similar fashionable places.
Nevertheless, the truth is that recreation is not to be taken lightly and must surface in the consciousness of the national sports authorities as well as the ordinary citizen if we are to become a healthy, disciplined, unified and prosperous society which is the Mission Statement of the National Sports Policy in the making.
In the last episode of this column it was argued that a National Sports Policy sans transparency does not augur well for the development of sport in the country.
Be that as it may, the conceptual position that every citizen can be a sports person is worthy of emulation and widespread support, if only for one’s own good.
A good start
Indeed the recent Presidential walkabout with the Minister of Sports in tow is a very good start. The President has indeed set the tone and led by example, something that all Ministers and not just the portly mandarins should practice regularly – and not just at election time. In Malaysia, the former Prime Minister Mahathir lead an annual walk each year from his Istana with his entire cabinet and ordinary citizens joining in to establish the idea that that nation believed that economic prosperity cannot ride on weak constitutions – the minds and bodies of its most important resource.
Recent political shootouts and the daily bulletins in its aftermath indicate all that is putrid about our society. If only these self-styled leaders and their bosses knew what’s good for them, they would abandon their Pajeros and walk hand in hand with the people. A fisticuff if it happens is tolerable, but when the T 56 is the way to go with bodyguards both official and personal spraying each other in gay abandon, then one can only say as it is been done now, that enough is enough! How this is relevant is aptly spelt out in the National Sports Policy document where the collateral, Sports for Peace, is articulated quite precisely if not adequately!
It is well appreciated that sports can enrich the quality of life and the physical wellbeing of people. However, a sports culture like in most aspects of life is nurtured from the cradle and therefore must start with the family. It becomes therefore more necessary than ever before to increase awareness among all Sri Lankans in all walks of life and not just in the urban centres. With high literacy and media access in many homes, it is not impossible to enhance this awareness rapidly.
The next obvious stage occurs at the school level where the old PT class can be revived and made compulsory. Every student must be exposed to a regimen of physical development at a young age so as to provide a mental stimulus that lasts a lifetime. The age old theory of strong minds in healthy bodies cannot be more emphasised. Competitive sport can only prosper and grow in a milieu where recreational sport has become a daily standard.
At a social level, the Community Recreational Centres (CRC) must be revived with each Pradeshiya Sabha having its own CRC so that the public at the grass roots are provided proper amenities in order to inculcate a sportive lifestyle. In Malaysia one notices the installation of futsal courts side by side with badminton and squash courts in most public and private sector sports complexes. This encourages both youth and adults either before or after work time to participate in congenial and secure surroundings greatly enhancing their personal lifestyles. There are indicators that this is the case in Colombo at least where booking a nearby badminton court is not easy anymore; sessions at 10 p.m. are now common place. So more courts are a necessity! There is in fact a great need for the Health and Sports Ministries as it is for the Education and Sports Ministries to work in collaboration to make these practices real. It will not happen by accident. Indeed, there is an all-encompassing need between all sectors to cooperate in order to create a new understanding of how our nation can embrace a sport for recreation mentality.
Whole new paradigm
In Colombo, we are privy to the UDA led by the Defence Secretary who is creating a whole new paradigm of pleasant walking or jogging tracks in and around the Sports Ministry areas. These open, well-defined and well-lit areas are admired by many and can become benchmarks for all our main cities and from there to semi urban and rural centres.
While we have presidential advisors and monitors in ministries twiddling their thumbs or orchestrating their next power play, assigning them to develop a CRC for their constituencies or organising a shramadana to construct a walkway or jogging track will bring a greater benefit to the people than all the foreign jaunts made presumably for the national good!
Arguably, as in most pursuits, an incentive is not a bad thing if it is properly regulated. Offering tax incentives for the construction of sports facilities may be a fast track to get a sports infrastructure running. Tax exemptions to the public for the building of gymnasiums, badminton and or squash courts as a business or tax concessions to companies providing well-defined sports facilities such as swimming pools and indoor/outdoor sports for their staff and guests may be worth considering.
It is said that many of the coastal folk lost their lives in the tsunami because they could not swim. One southern coast hotel initiated a swimming pool project which today caters to schools and the general public in the area, even producing champion swimmers representing the country. This is a good example of what is possible if only the powers that be think out of the box.
Timing is right
The timing is right it seems for many reasons. In spite of many fears there is also a general euphoria in the air and a ‘can do’ spirit that must be harnessed by the policymakers and the authorities. The opposition having wrested the CMC can in fact make it a point to stamp their capability by walking the talk as the President is doing and leave the tuk-tuks alone now that the election is done!
It seems to many people, that the business of sports must start with good recreation for everybody and not overly left to well-dressed dealmakers to whom a gym is a place to be seen even if the fat does not burn so easily! Indeed that hour has come!