The Indian cricket skipper, Virat Kohli, and sportswear brand Puma, recently commissioned market research agency Kantar IMRB to check the current state of physical activity and sports adoption in the country. The study, covering 3,924 respondents in the age bracket of 18-40 years (both male and female), was spread across 18 cities - Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Pune, Kolkata, Cochin, Ghaziabad, Goa, Gurugram, Guwahati, Jaipur, Lucknow, Ludhiana, Patna, Raipur, and Surat. The study revealed that 1/3 of India did no physical activity in the past year. ViratKohli is shocked. And very very unhappy.
Sports has been replaced by all-pervasive technology amongst millennials in urban India. The addiction to social media is further adding to the not-so-healthy formula, resulting in bulging waistlines and low stamina levels. While respondents across age groups blamed ‘lack of time’ for their inertia, the same respondents actually spent close to 4-5 hours on social media, watching TV, personal phone conversations and usage of various messaging platforms on a typical working day.
Kohli, a fitness freak himself, who also has his own athleisure brand, One8, was not very kicked with the findings. What worried him even more was that sports adoption dropped drastically with age. While 70 per cent in the 18-21 years bracket had played at least some sport last year, only 49 per cent in the 26-30 years segment had played some or the other game. This dropped even further to a mere 26 per cent in the 36-40 years age group.
Not surprisingly, football-loving Goa topped the list with 89 per cent of the respondents having played a sport at least once in the last 1 month, followed by Hyderabad and Mumbai. IT hub Gurgaon, and state capitals Raipur and Patna fared very badly.
Virat Kohli has put out a clarion call, 'Come Out and Play' because feeling fit and looking active is a simple 'Step 1' towards leading a more active lifestyle. Kohli’s call to action is actually quite timely. India as a nation is not much of a sports-achiever (except in cricket perhaps) and we are ourselves surprised when more and more athletes return from Games like the Commonwealth with more and more medals. We as Indians are largely lazy and lethargic, preferring a snooze and samosa over a day out swimming or snorkeling or ski-ing that most Westerners would opt for.
What could wake up India and get us all to the playground? Perhaps we as a nation have failed to largely understand some very basic tenets of sportsmanship. I had the privilege of hearing tennis legend Novak Djokovic speak recently and he made some very telling points:
- Kids’ character and moral principles are formed through fair play.
- Playing sports enables them to create friendships they otherwise might not have formed.
- Sports bring people together from all over the world, regardless of their nationality, religion, culture, or skin color.
- Teamwork and benefits of social interaction among children are best seen in sports.
- They view competitions on and off the field as opportunities to learn from their success and failure.
- They learn to respect authority, rules, team colleagues and opponents.
- Sport is an important learning environment for children.
- Sports experiences help building positive self- esteem in children.
- Participating in sports can be a helpful way of reducing stress and increasing feelings of physical and mental well-being.
To me, sports draw us in for many reasons: the elegance, the competition, the history, our identification with great athleticism (we may not be able to do it, but they the champions sure can!), a coming together of community in a shared story … there is so much going for sports. In a world that is losing its legitimacy; sports are still essentially sane and fair. Virat and Novak are both correct: we have to wake up and just get out to play. It does not matter what we do. Just hitting the ball is enough. The harder you hit, the higher and farther the ball goes, the healthier your heart leaps.
Virat’s research may have been motivated somewhat by Puma’s desire to open up bigger markets for its shoes and apparel, but the core take-away from the research that we as a nation are inactive and insipid cannot be ignored. We can always blame lack of space and lack of infrastructure for our inability to get out and play. But frankly, we all know these are just excuses.
India needs to become more outdoorsy. India needs to become more sporty. India needs to become more healthy.
Thank you Virat Kohli for showing us the way. Who will join me for soccer at the maidan tomorrow morning at 6 o’clock?!
(Carol Goyal is an unabashed fan of Virat Kohli. But that is not the only reason she agrees with Virat’s call to ‘Come Out and Play’.)