Olympic concerns

What India can learn: The US produces Olympic champions not through a ministry but through parks

Playing fields and tournaments, organised free of cost, help catch sports stars young.

Parks.

Yes, you read that right.

Parks are the reason the United States is a churning machine for Olympic champions.

As a former member of the Indian badminton team and someone currently living in the US, I constantly try to understand the framework in which this country operates on the sports front. Over the past six months, I have interviewed athletes, professors, and local city government officers to get some high-quality grassroots information. The more I ask, the better I understand American sports and the framework surrounding it.

First of all, it is interesting that in spite of being a world leader in the Olympics, the US does not have a Ministry of Sports. There is absolutely no such department at the federal level. The responsibility of producing Olympians is not given to the national government. What does exist, though, are multiple non-profit organisations that work in association with the government. It is bodies like USA Swimming and US Sailing that help to organise and train athletes outside schools.

Collegiate sports

In addition to programme fees and revenues, these organisations rely on donations from foundations, individuals, and corporations – all subsidised by the federal government by up to 40 or so cents on the dollar, thanks to their charitable tax deduction. But the question, then, is: if the federal government is not really involved, how does the US throw up such great athletes consistently?

The answer is surprising but true. Schools and universities play a significant part in the making of these athletes. The National Collegiate Athletic Association website boasted that 417 of the 555 members of the United States team at the Rio Olympics were NCAA athletes. The NCAA is a national college athletic association which finds potential athletes from colleges and trains them to become stars in their respective fields.

As an athlete, I can vouch for the fact that most successful athletes in the world start very young. In America, university sports actually starts from the high school level. So who is responsible for ensuring that all these champions are taken care of at an early stage?

My research leads me to believe that the answer is the parks department in every city.

New York's famous Central Park. Image credit: Aditi Mutatkar
New York's famous Central Park. Image credit: Aditi Mutatkar

Creating opportunities at the grassroots

Let me explain. My quest for finding answers has taken me to some great places and given me multiple opportunities to talk to people instrumental in this very activity. A month ago, I got a chance to interview Ted Benavides, a former city manager who also happens to be my professor. I asked him a specific question:

“If there is no Department of Sports, which entity at the federal government level is responsible for athletics?”

Benavides replied, “Well, apart from the universities, it has to be the Parks and Recreation Department.”

“How is that?” I responded with surprise.

“The Parks and Recreation department is in charge of providing the city with athletic fields, including every sport that the public demand, providing gyms and organising tournaments and leagues where the public can compete,” informed the former city manager. “The tournaments are provided for every age group, including the disabled population. They really do a great job. The Parks and Recreation Department plays an important role at the grassroot level.”

“What kind of fees do they charge?” I queried.

It was his turn to be surprised. “What fees?” he asked. “It is free of charge.”

I was intrigued. The logical realisation of this pursuit led me to James Smith, a Parks and Recreation manager who gave me an appointment and interview after two months of trying.

The government’s responsibility to provide recreation

My question to Smith was simple: What does the Parks and Recreation Department really do?

Smith was informative. He told me, “We have 55 parks spread over 2000 acres of land. Fifty-five athletic fields are part of the parks. We have eight recreation centres which have gyms and other interesting classes like cooking, drawing and piano.”

He added, “There are 14 athletic leagues for different games that conduct tournaments. The total participation for these leagues is between 600 and 800 children. It keeps on growing. Leagues are pretty popular here. The government gives us somewhere around a quarter of a million dollars [approximately Rs 1.5 crore] to maintain these services."

"The rest comes from non-profits," he continued. "We take sports very seriously in America. Our leisure time is dedicated to it. Our cities are planned according to the people’s needs. We don’t take decisions about what their needs are for them. Parks are really important to people here. So it is the government’s responsibility to provide for it. It is their money after all.”

Take a closer look at the number of parks mentioned. This city is just one example. Most cities in the United States have a Parks and Recreation Department which is in charge of providing for athletics in the city. There is a lot of fascinating data available for every city in the country on their local government websites

This research posed some interesting questions. Does planning a city contribute to raising champions? Does giving more importance to open spaces and parks help the cause of sports in India? Does it make better sense to not have a sports department at the national level and channel all those resources to cities instead? Will that make execution of policies more efficient and accountable?

In a recent interview, Milind Dhaimade, the director of the football-themed film Tu Hi Mera Sunday – which used the shrinking spaces in Mumbai for a game of football as one of its themes – lamented: “The loss of personal space is the measure of prosperity for this city.”

Is that not the case with all our cities? Development cannot just mean buildings, metros and flyovers. If great open spaces are not a part of our development, we are going to build successful cities which may not be sustainable. Where then does playing a sport stand a chance?

Aditi Mutatkar is the winner of five national badminton championships – under-13, under-16, under-19 and senior nationals – and has represented the Indian badminton team in international tournaments.

Children play cricket on Mumbai's Juhu Beach. Image credit: Vivek Prakash / Reuters
Children play cricket on Mumbai's Juhu Beach. Image credit: Vivek Prakash / Reuters
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

Modern home design trends that are radically changing living spaces in India

From structure to finishes, modern homes embody lifestyle.

Homes in India are evolving to become works of art as home owners look to express their taste and lifestyle through design. It’s no surprise that global home design platform Houzz saw over a million visitors every month from India, even before their services were locally available. Architects and homeowners are spending enormous time and effort over structural elements as well as interior features, to create beautiful and comfortable living spaces.

Here’s a look at the top trends that are altering and enhancing home spaces in India.

Cantilevers. A cantilever is a rigid structural element like a beam or slab that protrudes horizontally out of the main structure of a building. The cantilevered structure almost seems to float on air. While small balconies of such type have existed for eons, construction technology has now enabled large cantilevers, that can even become large rooms. A cantilever allows for glass facades on multiple sides, bringing in more sunlight and garden views. It works wonderfully to enhance spectacular views especially in hill or seaside homes. The space below the cantilever can be transformed to a semi-covered garden, porch or a sit-out deck. Cantilevers also help conserve ground space, for lawns or backyards, while enabling more built-up area. Cantilevers need to be designed and constructed carefully else the structure could be unstable and lead to floor vibrations.

Butterfly roofs. Roofs don’t need to be flat - in fact roof design can completely alter the size and feel of the space inside. A butterfly roof is a dramatic roof arrangement shaped, as the name suggests, like a butterfly. It is an inverted version of the typical sloping roof - two roof surfaces slope downwards from opposing edges to join around the middle in the shape of a mild V. This creates more height inside the house and allows for high windows which let in more light. On the inside, the sloping ceiling can be covered in wood, aluminium or metal to make it look stylish. The butterfly roof is less common and is sure to add uniqueness to your home. Leading Indian architecture firms, Sameep Padora’s sP+a and Khosla Associates, have used this style to craft some stunning homes and commercial projects. The Butterfly roof was first used by Le Corbusier, the Swiss-French architect who later designed the city of Chandigarh, in his design of the Maison Errazuriz, a vacation house in Chile in 1930.

Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)
Butterfly roof and cantilever (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)

Skylights. Designing a home to allow natural light in is always preferred. However, spaces, surrounding environment and privacy issues don’t always allow for large enough windows. Skylights are essentially windows in the roof, though they can take a variety of forms. A well-positioned skylight can fill a room with natural light and make a huge difference to small rooms as well as large living areas. However, skylights must be intelligently designed to suit the climate and the room. Skylights facing north, if on a sloping roof, will bring in soft light, while a skylight on a flat roof will bring in sharp glare in the afternoons. In the Indian climate, a skylight will definitely reduce the need for artificial lighting but could also increase the need for air-conditioning during the warm months. Apart from this cleaning a skylight requires some effort. Nevertheless, a skylight is a very stylish addition to a home, and one that has huge practical value.

Staircases. Staircases are no longer just functional. In modern houses, staircases are being designed as aesthetic elements in themselves, sometimes even taking the centre-stage. While the form and material depend significantly on practical considerations, there are several trendy options. Floating staircases are hugely popular in modern, minimalist homes and add lightness to a normally heavy structure. Materials like glass, wood, metal and even coloured acrylic are being used in staircases. Additionally, spaces under staircases are being creatively used for storage or home accents.

Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)
Floating staircase (Image credit: Design Milk on Flickr.com)

Exposed Brick Walls. Brickwork is traditionally covered with plaster and painted. However, ‘exposed’ bricks, that is un-plastered masonry, is becoming popular in homes, restaurants and cafes. It adds a rustic and earthy feel. Exposed brick surfaces can be used in home interiors, on select walls or throughout, as well as exteriors. Exposed bricks need to be treated to be moisture proof. They are also prone to gathering dust and mould, making regular cleaning a must.

Cement work. Don’t underestimate cement and concrete when it comes to design potential. Exposed concrete interiors, like exposed brick, are becoming very popular. The design philosophy is ‘Less is more’ - the structure is simplistic and pops of colour are added through furniture and soft furnishings.

Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)
Exposed concrete wall (Image Credit: Getty Images)

When building your home, it is important to use strong and durable materials. A value-added premium product with high compressive strength, Birla Gold cement is used to make tough, impermeable concrete that sets quickly, lasts long and minimises cracking. Its durability will ensure that your dream home always looks new and the steel structure inside remains protected. Birla Gold offers variants that are optimised for different needs. The unique hydraulic binding properties of the Birla Gold Premium cement variant prevent seepage, making it resistant to even corrosive water, especially important for houses in coastal cities. The Birla Gold Royal cement variant provides very high strength and is perfect for the foundation. As the video below says, with the different varieties of cement that Birla Gold offers, you can build the home of your dreams.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Birla Gold Premium Cement and not by the Scroll editorial team.