Why Are Sports So Important?

From the Asia Cup and FIFA World Cup to the Pro Kabaddi League, we see sports teams, fans, and nations gearing up for battle throughout the world. Given the rise of the era of sports, it begs the question, why are sports considered so important in today’s day and age? 

Sporting events 

There are a myriad of reasons for the importance of sports for society as a whole and individuals in particular. As the sports sector continues to evolve into a multifaceted industry that drives a multitude of other sectors, it also increasingly becomes an even more intrinsic part of our modern society. First and foremost on the long list of pros of engaging in sports are the immediate and long-term health benefits of the same. For an individual participating in sporting activities the immediate benefits are often observed in the form of a change in their frame of mind. Active participation in sports also acts as a stress buster and helps relieve anxiety. Long-term practice of physical sports has proven to have numerous benefits on one’s health. It helps manage body weight, reduces health risks such as cardiovascular diseases, is known to prevent certain kinds of cancers (like that of the kidney, lung, breast, colon, endometrium, etc.), strengthens bone density, promotes muscle development, and is known to regularize one’s sleep cycle. In fact, an often overlooked benefit of engaging in sports is the prevention of cognitive decline. Habitual participation in physical activity helps improve human memory, attention, motor coordination, decision-making, and problem-solving abilities. Studies show that people who are physically and mentally active are less likely to experience a decline in their mental function with age and face a lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Further, sports is not just limited to physical aspects and benefits but also plays a broader transformative role in society building. It stimulates the psychosocial development of individuals as they become part of a community and develop new social circles. Thus they create and accept social norms and attitudes instilling a sense of belonging in them. This provides them with meaning and a sense of identity in their lives. Sports, in modern society also seem to affect ethical values and lifestyle. The goal of sportsmanship is not simply to win but to give one’s best efforts and pursue victory with honour and dignity. It serves as a mirror that reflects the basic values of a society. An excellent example of this point is the Soviet Union. In a world where liberal democratic capitalist states maintained a laissez-faire attitude towards sports, the Soviets rejected its predominant principles of competition. They instead chose to focus on the physical nature of sports. Their emphasis here was to focus on the betterment of the individual by using sports as a medium instead of subscribing to the “winner-takes-all” attitude of the West.

Sports has and continues to be  an integral part of many childhoods. Playing kick the can, lock and key, poison, kho-kho, etc in school are core memories for many of us. This childhood participation in sports is crucial as it acts as a catalyst  in one’s  personal development. Being a part of a team and maintaining a cordial relationship with one’s mentors and team mates helps children develop basic interpersonal skills that are of prime importance in any social and professional interaction.

Society seems to have a sentimental attachment to sports as well. Most individuals are connected to sports in one way or another. Even if people  don’t actively participate in sports they may sedulously follow sporting events. They do this because like art or cinema, sports is an outlet for emotional expression. It’s not just about the game, it’s also about following the progress of a team throughout the tournament that’s exciting and exhilarating. Sports provides a momentary escape from one’s real-world problems as it’s a connection to a wider world, which seems to offer endless opportunities. Thus, even if people don’t follow cricket, we all remember and joined in the celebrations that ensued after India won the World Cup in 2011 or more recently when Neeraj Chopra brought home the gold medal for athletics. This is because sports, even if not actively followed, does bring with it a much craved sense of community and belonging. These events unite people and nations irrespective of  caste, class, race or gender. Sports  come very close to giving us one united identity. Over the past few months, Sri Lanka’s populace endured great economic hardship, as their country faced its biggest crisis ever. Even in the face of these trials and tribulations, Sri Lanka found its silver lining  in cricket. When Sri Lanka won the Asia Cup in 2022, it wasn’t just the story of  another  cricket team winning a game of bat and ball, it was a nation overcoming their despondency and rediscovering themselves. The sport became the nation’s source of  catharsis.

Sri Lanka wins the Asia Cup 2022

A wider impact of sports can be seen through its role in the transformation of cultures. Sports served an important symbolic function in the anti-apartheid struggle of South Africa (1950-1994). Apartheid policies kept sports segregated because officials argued that mixed-race events would exacerbate racial tensions. As a result, South Africa was subject to international boycotts of sporting contracts. Its invitation to the 1964 Summer Olympics was withdrawn by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) when they insisted the team would not be racially integrated. The IOC later adopted a declaration against apartheid in sport in 1988 for a total boycott of apartheid sports. After the end of apartheid, when the Government of National Unity was formed, the international community ended their sports boycott on South Africa.

Protests against apartheid in Sports

Sports, which started as a way to train for war or hunting and gathering eventually evolved along with the evolution of human beings and society into what it is today. To dismiss sports as merely a recreational activity is to be ignorant of its cultural, economic, and anthropological impact and relevance to society, communities, and nations.

-Vaishnavi Ganpule 


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