Sports or stress, debate rages

Bhubaneswar, Sept. 9:  The Union sports ministry’s proposal for a National Physical Fitness Programme to test children’s physical fitness and link their performance with academic achievement has triggered a debate here, with a wide spectrum of clashing opinions being expressed.

As per the draft document, the fitness evaluation would be done for children in Class V and above on various components divided into eight tests. The performers in both genders would be awarded up to 3 per cent marks that can be converted into academic grades.

“It will create awareness about the importance of physical fitness in our daily life. Further, the concept of marks for sports will leave no scope for parents to grumble if we spend more time playing outside,” said Utkarsh Pratap, a Class XII student of Sai International School.

Referring to the adage “a healthy body hosts a healthy mind”, school principal Arun Prakash said: “The plan would be very effective in ensuring a healthier and wiser population. In our country, sports is treated as an extra-curricular activity and not as a mainstream consideration. Hopefully, this mindset will change.”

Welcoming the proposal, sports coach Hari Prasad Patnaik said it was important that children gave importance to both studies and outdoor activities. “We Indians have poor genetics as far as our physical capabilities are concerned. But, this programme will help develop a culture of fitness which, in the long run, would help youngsters perform the physically demanding day-to-day activities such as lifting a gas cylinder or running up the stairs with ease in future,” said Patnaik, who is also vice-president of the Odisha Weightlifting Association.

Class X student of Mother’s Public School Swayambodha Mohapatra said the programme, if introduced in schools, would do a world of good to urban kids, who are mostly couch potatoes.

“Besides boosting physical wellness, it would also keep us mentally alert. I hope it is implemented this year itself since I am in Class X and physically active. With marks coming into the equation, it might just give me the push to sprint ahead of everyone else,” he said.

Nabakishore Mahapatra, head of the sports department at DAV Public School, Chandrasekharpur, said authorities, besides conducting a battery of fitness tests, must also ensure that students remained involved in sports activities round the year.

“A star-rating system was introduced in the late 1950s in which a more physically fit student was given additional weightage in academic performance. But, it was later discontinued. This new plan will hopefully make students more eager and passionate about sports,” he said.

Many parents, however, disagreed with the idea of integrating physical fitness with academics. “Not all children like to be on the playground. There are some, who like indoor games more; outdoor sports make them woozy. Inability to perform in physical tests will affect their overall scores,” said Dharashree Mohanty, a homemaker.

Paediatrician Arijit Mahapatra said physical fitness should not be mixed with academic scores. “The lack of outdoor activity has given rise to the problem of obesity among teenagers. We must promote physical activities but not go to an extent where it could become a burden on them,” he said.

If sports and studies have to go hand-in-hand, a major overhaul of sporting facilities and infrastructure is of prime importance, feels former captain of the national women’s football team Shradhanjali Samantaray. “Many schools lack playing fields and physical education trainers. These issues have to be addressed urgently,” she said.

The proposal was not practical from the point of view of Odisha, which is faced with the challenges of poverty and malnourishment, said state representative of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights Ranjan Mohanty. “Many children attend school on an empty stomach. Sometimes, they have to walk for four to five kilometres, and by the time they reach school, they are exhausted,” he said, adding a physical fitness test under such circumstances could have an adverse effect on their health.

“These kids cannot compete with their classmates, who come from relatively better backgrounds, and are certain to get lower grades. So, this will result in these socially disadvantaged children being discriminated against further,” Mohanty said.

Minister of sports and youth affairs Ramesh Majhi admitted that sports had remained neglected area in the state, in general, and in schools, in particular. He said Odisha had only 60 to 70 coaches as against the requirement of at least 600 to 700 coaches to groom-budding talents.

“Our stadiums and playgrounds are in a bad shape. We provide cheap sporting gear, which wears out in a matter of days. Those being trained in our sports hostels have a daily diet allowance of Rs 100, which is very low and does not give them adequate calories. How can one expect them to build fitness? Funds are being allocated to develop a sports culture, but it is not being properly utilised. I will review the existing facilities and take steps to improve the grim scenario,” said Majhi, who is just a month-old in this ministry.

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