Guest Column: Creating A Drumbeat Around Lesser Known Sports In India

On this National Sports Day, Komal Mehra, Head, Sports Initiatives and Associations at Usha International shares her views on recognising and supporting indigenous sports.


On 29 August each year, India celebrates ‘National Sports Day’, to honour the hockey wizard Dhyan Chand. There is a long list of talented Indian sportspeople whose names can be added here. In fact, India has a vibrant history of sports that goes back thousands of years with ancient Indian texts and universities records acknowledging the presence of various sports. These include some that are mainstream today such as swimming, boxing, running, martial arts, archery, ball games, wrestling, and many other indigenous sports that bear resemblance to these and are slowly but surely gaining ground -- i.e. Kalaripayattu from Kerala that is very similar to the martial arts of today, Mallakhamb from Tamil Nadu which involves moves on a pole or rope, Siat Khnam of Meghalaya which involves archery.

Over the years, while Indian sports and athletes emerging from the country have found international acclaim, and while mainstream sports hog the limelight, not many know about the various indigenous sports that are an intrinsic part of our diverse country. Yes, there are some sports that have become mainstream and that give us hope that many more will follow – traditional Indian sports such as Kabaddi and Kho-Kho are great examples of this. Kabaddi first had its official footing in India in the 1950s and it was after its debut at the Asian Games in Beijing in 1990, that the game garnered considerable popularity, and today there is a Kabaddi League that has an ever-increasing viewer base and attracts lucrative investments. Similarly, Kho-Kho, India’s very own “gully” sport, has drawn the attention of large corporates in recent years.

In a nation where only some sports grab most of the eyeballs and rouse sentiments, it becomes important to draw attention to the history, relevance, and importance of some of these indigenous games and how they impact the communities. More importantly, how we can play a role in bringing about a positive change.

Change at the grassroots level

There needs to be a transformational change at the institutional level which leads to the acknowledgement of the many indigenous sports that exist in India and the role they play in those communities as well as a framework as to how they can be supported and nurtured. Some of these include putting in place proper facilities, training and coaching solutions, and exposure options, which will have a salutary effect on traditional sporting disciplines in India, while encouraging young athletes across geographies to participate in such events thereby growing the popularity of the sporting discipline.

Seeing the potential that exists here, with the right push at the grassroots level, India may just become the sought-after destination for training talent in indigenous sporting forms!

Creating a drumbeat around lesser known sports

Games of Indian origin such as Siat Kham or Silambam, or the hundreds of others there are, must be encouraged to follow the path to popularity the way Kabaddi, Kalari, or Kho-Kho have. This is where corporates and large conglomerates can really play a huge, in fact a transformational, role – they can support these lesser ‘commercialized’ sporting forms as a way of promoting the larger holistic vision of promoting an active and healthy lifestyle amongst the younger population of the country.

As responsible corporates, if each of us can put our money where our intention is, we will soon see local indigenous sports from various corners of the country gain ground at the state, national, and who knows maybe, even at an international level.

Why corporates must support inclusive sporting formats

According to a recent report, the Indian sports industry spends is estimated to have surpassed Rs 9,500 crore in 2021, with a 62 percent year-on-year growth. The report also said that despite pandemic led setbacks that brands faced, media spends on sporting tournaments have more than bounced back, led by deep investments by traditional and new-age brands on TV and digital platforms.

Keeping these statistics in mind, we must not discount the role and responsibility of brands in popularizing indigenous sports, as well as in promoting young talent across towns in India so that they can avail proper training facilities for their journeys. Brands must play their part in keeping ancient and indigenous sports alive and learn to move beyond mere ‘sponsorships’.

Some of these local sports are very well received and continue to live on decades after their inception, courtesy champions of the cause who continue to carry on their legacy. In Tamil Nadu, one can witness the ancient Mallakhamb, in which a gymnast performs aerial yoga, gymnastic postures, or wrestling grips on a vertical stationary or hanging wooden pole, cane, or rope. Another such sport is Kalaripayattu, also simply known as ‘Kalari’ which lives on owing to its popularity amongst the locals in Kerala. Kalari meaning "battlefield" is played with weapons and combative techniques unique to India. For the Khasis, an ethnic group of Meghalaya in North-East India, amongst the many recreational activities they enjoy, is this form of archery called ‘Siat Khnam’ or ‘Ka Rongbiria’. Besides the discipline of sportsmanship and camaraderie, each of these games is a perfect example of the wisdom of how communities found ways to stay active, and healthy and fit, while keeping their culture and traditional ways alive.

Besides being great for fitness and community building, with proper thrust, many such traditional disciplines have the potential of not only getting national-level recognition but also being included in international-level sporting platforms. Here’s hoping!

Around The World

Our Publications