Championing Rural Sports

Does Yubi Lakpi sound familiar? or Gatka? or Hole Taso Dukanaram?

Quite frankly, we hadn’t heard of these names either, till recently. These are some popular rural sports enjoyed by many across our country. While some rural sports like Vallamkali, the Kerala boat race have reached cult status, most others are little known outside their states.

The new Companies Bill talks of 10 areas where the CSR Budget can be spent. Of these ten, ‘Training to promote rural sports, regionally recognised sports, paralympics sport’ is the seventh item.

For corporate CSR managers investing in sports could be a unique way of building brand salience  at the  same time benefiting thousands. Though some key questions need to be answered before they invest in something new:

1. Where should sports sit within a wider CSR strategy?
2. Which key stakeholders will a sports initiative benefit?
3. Can the CSR activity fund grass roots sport and increase participation??
4. Can these initiatives be scaled up?
?5. How can linking CSR to sport add value to the brand and the business??

The answers to the above questions will vary depending upon the type of company and stakeholder impact required. However, choosing a cause and a sport which has synergy with the organisation’s values would be  a step in the right direction.

Sport is an effective CSR medium because it boosts values that any socially-responsible business should be striving for. These include fair play, equal opportunity, building the drive to excel, following rules and most importantly the sporting spirit.

Once the company has decided to invest in sports based activities for CSR, the next big question is – Should we invest in little known regional sports or well-known sports also played in rural areas?

There is a very robust regional rural sporting culture in India. Almost every region boasts of something innovative and widely popular. Manipurs Yubi Lakpi (traditional football played with a coconut), Kambala Buffalo race, Elephant polo, Keralas martial art Kalarippayattu are amongst some of the unique and popular games played in several parts of the country. We even have sports festivals such as the the Kila Raipur Sports Festival, is one such festival, which is now called Rural Olympics of India.

However, people who play these unique regional sports may do so for the fun of it, but for them to continue to excel, they need incentives that can only come if they start seeing the sport as a livelihood. There are a finite number of sports where sportspersons make money. It is only for these sports that ecosystems are developing nationally and internationally – football, cricket, basketball, hockey to name a few.

If you are a company looking to do something more in sports, what are your choices? Preserve a cultural heritage or create ecosystems for some of these modern sports and give people with sporting talent a real chance in life or you could do both?

There are no easy answers to these questions, but CSR investments are long term opportunities to change lives and by making the program closer to your brand values you might have a winner of a program.

One must remember that sport differs significantly from other sectors clamouring for CSR budgets. Investing in a sport means actually investing in the entire ecosystem.

– Talent scouting and training of players and trainers
– Sports infrastructure
– Sports equipment
– Leagues and Tournaments
– Performance incentives for sportspersons
– Scholarships and hostel facilities

India has a robust social sector with a significant number of NGO’s in health and education. However sports and that too rural sports / paralympic sports has very few takers. That in itself seems to be an opportunity for corporate India to build an ecosystem which lends itself to sporting excellence, community relations and brand building.

Article coauthored with Utkarsh Majmudar and originally published in Economic Times.

https://plus.google.com/101661119011832277070

%d bloggers like this: