India and sport for development

A soccer coaching program in India is aiming to promote participation across caste, tribes and gender.

Sport can be unifying, developing a sense of ownership amongst those who play and participate. It can also help community development, which has been the aim of an ongoing project in the Nilgiris Mountains of South India.

Dr Biju Philip, an academic at the La Trobe Business School, has spent a number of years in India working with the Sport4All Foundation in establishing Sport for Development projects in India.

His most successful project saw him living and working amongst the people of the Nilgiris mountains in southern India, implementing intensive soccer coaching programs amongst Tribal and non-Tribal groups.

“There are four Tribes in the Nilgiris mountains, although they worked together for survival, they are very different from each other,” says Dr Philip. “Economically they are not very rich, and there are social and educational disparities with those in towns and cities.”

Dr Philip’s PhD project started in 2014 with establishing a partnership with La Trobe University, Nilgiris Wynaadu Tribal Welfare Society and the Sport4All Foundation and implemented a soccer peer-coaching camp in The Nilgiris which was attended by more than a hundred school children.

Later, the program was expanded into four schools, and involved children and young adults from Tribal and non-Tribal communities receiving an inclusive experience, no matter their gender, ability or caste.

“Implementing the program involved overcoming a lot of difficulties,” says Dr Philip. “Developing local partnerships were crucial, and many had to be convinced that participating in the program was worthwhile.”

“There were also hurdles in communication. Cultural and contextual understanding had to be developed, and our coaching manual and resources needed to be translated into Tamil for the participants.”

Dr Philip’s  findings from the study were published in a paper Sport-for-development and social inclusion in caste-ridden India: opportunities and challenges for the Soccer & Society journal (October 2021).

One unintended benefit was the establishment of two competitive teams amongst the Tribal children - one of boys and one of girls. Dr Philip founds the results rewarding, as it encouraged participation amongst groups that rarely interact and gave them the opportunities to develop social, educational and leadership skills.

“Before the project was established, schools were focused purely on academic development, and sport was only considered for competitive reasons,” says Dr Philip. “The program helped the schools recognise the benefit of sport to the physical, mental and social health of these children. It improved community participation in school initiatives. For me that shows what an effective sport-for-development project can do."