Published: 11th January 2019
This NGO is helping tribal kids from MP, Odisha, and Karnataka to become sports icons. Here's how
Plenty of tribal and underprivileged kids often lack the coaching to make it to the big stage. But this organisation of youngsters is firmly trying to ensure they get great coaching and make it count
Very often, there's a rather nasty jibe that people use when speaking about sportspersons who hail from SC/ST communities. That they got in only because of the reservation extended to people in 'their category'. While this is debatable, at best, what isn't up for debate is that large swathes of kids from these tribal communities often do not get the facilities, training, support or exposure to make it big in sports. To recognise talent in sports and empower tribal and underserved kids and give them an equal chance to rise above, Nitish M Chiniwar started Bridges of Sports.
After completing his Masters in Advanced Motorsport Engineering from Cranfield University, he worked for a few years in the motorsport industry. But there was this nagging feeling he had that pushed him to use sports as one of the tools to bridge the gap in society and bring about social change. He says, "When I was in the motorsport industry, I used to organise motorsport races in different parts of India. But I realised that it does not have much encouragement. There was no chance of building a motorsport culture. Then what's the point in organising such sports? This made me realise that we should work from the grassroots level to build a culture of sports in India."
Work hard: A minimum of 300 hours are spent on structured sports training before and after school hours (Pic:Bridges of Sports)
Shifting out of the fast lane, he shifted his focus to empower tribal and socially backward community children through sports. In 2015, he and his team studied the ecosystem of sports in different countries and how communities came together to build a sports culture. This gave them an idea of how to develop the same culture in India. "During our research, we realised that there are many children, especially in the tribal areas, who had the talent to make it big in sports but they can't afford the training nor the bus fare to get there. They are socially and economically backward. They are not aware of government schemes as well," he explains and adds, "Thus in 2016, we started to approach these children in Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha under the programme called Patang - Planning Athletic Training and Nurturing Grassroots Development."
Initially, the team had started to train kids in volleyball, football and athletics. But over a period of time, they realised that they need to concentrate on one sport — to increase their chances of producing stars. "Although volleyball and football were loved by people in different states, they are team sports and have to be encouraged by various clubs in order to sustain. Thus, we decided to train children in various forms of running races like sprints, heptathlon, pentathlon and much more," he added.
Three states: BOS team is present in 20 schools of Karnataka, MP and Odisha
Running with the Siddis
How did they find these super kids? With the help of local coaches in government schools, they first traced some of the fast running kids in the Siddi tribe. Settled in the North Canara region of Karnataka, they are originally from the African continent. Children from this tribe are among the most talented in terms of running and jumping. Some of the people from the Siddi tribe have even made it big in national and international platforms. For instance, Kamala Babu Siddi is one of the prolific athletes who has won gold medals for India. She went on to represent the country in various international sports meets.
Nitish says, "During the 1980s, officials from the Sports Authority of India (SAI) discovered their talent and trained these children in sports. It had changed their fortunes and most of them got into government jobs. After a few years, the schemes meant specifically for these children were diluted for various reasons and from then, no child went on to represent the country. Now, we have special coaches to train them and also provide necessary proteins and nutrients. At present, there are 900 Siddi kids being trained under the Patang programme."
Who gets it first: Both girls and boys are given same amount of training and nutrition so that they can perform better during national and international level sports competitions
He further adds, "These kids study in government schools which are close to their homes. But they have to attend the coaching sessions every day. Every quarter, we personally visit their places and check their weight, height and other aspects related to physical fitness. We see that they are prepared to participate and represent our state and country in various sports meet conducted by the central or state governments." The impact has been great. Ravikiran Siddi and Namita Siddi were among the kids who were picked and trained and now they run 100 metres in 11.71 seconds and 12.89 seconds respectively.
Journey to Madhya Pradesh and Odisha
Having set their roots deep in Karnataka, they moved to Madhya Pradesh and Odisha next. While in MP, they approached the Gond and Baiga tribal children. To his surprise, he could see these children doing exceptionally well at long range running in a short span of time "We had conducted a sports league among these tribal children and with no coach to train them, no shoes to wear and no proper food, they performed well. Without a second thought, we decided to provide full-fledged training to these kids through local coaches. Now, their travel expenses, sports accessories, coaching and nutritional food are all our responsibilities. There are 600 children whom we are training and I hope at least 15 to 20 among them will not only represent the country but bring gold medals."
Their journey to Odisha and getting in touch with tribal kids did not take them much time. They partnered with the Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences that specially focuses on educating tribal children. "Like the other two states, we conducted a sports league for the tribal kids here. Based on their performance, we selected 300 kids who are being trained by our coaches."
Shining star: Ravikiran Siddi of Siddi tribe in Karnataka along with his coach after winning in the district-level sports meet held in North Canara region
Getting in and making the numbers count
Although the team hires a local person to train these children, they have set certain criteria for coaches. Nitish says, "Every year, we receive hundreds of applications from various candidates who wants to become a coach. Based on their experience in the field, their attitude towards recognising talent or even helping them overcome the difficulties, we hire the coaches."
He further adds, "Once the coach is hired, he or she has to give daily updates on the children. They need to save the details of the duration of a training session, the number of children who attended it and all this has to be saved in the Google Data Studio. Apart from this, they have to send pictures of daily training sessions. For now, only 20 coaches are able to follow this process. In the future, we want all the coaches to follow it and that's why we are on the verge of developing an app. An organisation called Chintu Gudiya Foundation is known for developing apps for non-profit organisations. We are hoping to come up with an app by January or February 2019."
In 2019, BOS aim to conduct over 10 sports leagues to reach out to more than 5,000 tribal children across India and wants to have 100 coaches in their team
Through this approach, the coaches accumulate points for the number of training hours they have completed, improvement in their technical skills, improvement in the physical ability of children, gender ratio of their batch and finally the performance of their team in the league. Based on the accumulated points, they are incentivised in the range of Rs 10,000 to Rs 50,000.
Keeping the gender ratio stable
When the organisation started, their focus was to train an equal number of boys and girls. However, it has not happened to date for various reasons. Explaining their future plans on how they will try to bring more girls into sports, he says, "At present, the ratio of boys to girls is 65:35. Our plan is to make it 50:50. For this, we want to hire female coaches. This will give girls the confidence that they can play for the country. It is only in Odisha that the ratio of male and female coaches is equal. Similarly, last year we made it mandatory for MP to have a separate team of girls and from then the ratio in this state has increased."
All smiles: Bridges of Sports needs Rs 99 to train one child per month, as opposed to Rs 350 one child per month earlier
Life lessons on the run
Very often, children lose hopes and get demotivated. They even become nervous and panic when they reach the playground. BOS has a special life coach, Rohit Sasavehalli, to motivate these children. "Except India, all the other countries have a life coach for their participants to motivate them, overcome fear and other nervous and mental disorders. Most of the time, in the Under-18 sports meet, adults who are aged 20 or 21 also participate which is technically wrong. They produce a fake identity card showing a wrong age and date of birth. Even authorities don't take serious action against them. In such cases, a 16-year-old child becomes nervous. There are instances where the other child will have colourful and attractive shoes whereas these tribal children will have simple ones, or sometimes torn ones. In order to overcome these hurdles mentally, we conduct workshops for the children," he says.