ASA marching towards pioneering work through Sport in rural India

When inspiring stories of impact are observed from an organisation, it is a proof that the organisation is moving in the right direction. Yes, we are talking about the success stories from Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA), one of India’s largest sport for development programs reaching close to 8,400 children coming from marginalised rural communities living in the arid regions of Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh.

ASA was established in 2000 with a vision to instil a sporting culture at the grassroots by utilizing sport as sustainable tool for the holistic development and social integration of underprivileged and marginalised youth in rural Anantapur.

The 2017–18 season saw years of hard-work coming into fruition when inspiring stories of success started coming out. M. Bhavani, who joined ASA as a young hockey player in 2014, made her way to the National Hockey Academy in New Delhi. International recognition was not far behind, as R. Shobha represented India in the Homeless World Cup in Norway and M. Jagadeesh represented the Indian Softball team in the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC) in Canada.

This was just the start. Soon after the National Sports Day was celebrated on 29th August, 2017, hockey player B. Sai Kiran fulfilled his dream of serving the Indian Army. Soon his junior Sandeep followed his footsteps and got selected to play hockey in the Army team.

The 2017–18 season also witnessed ASA promoting inclusive sports through Special Olympics Unified Cricket Tournament which saw the participation of teams from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India, jointly organised by ASA and Special Olympics Bharat. On the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace on 6th April, 2018, 112 girls and 118 boys from Rural Development Trust’s (RDT) Special Olympics program, Inclusive School as well as ASA participated in a ‘Play4Inclusion’ event with fun-games aimed at spreading awareness about disability and were made accessible for all the participants.

Coaches from One Million Hockey Legs in one of the adapted schools

In the last year ASA facilitated international partnerships to help achieve their vision, the most prominent being the one with La Liga, Spain’s premier football league, who decided to extend its support to promote girls in football through ASA’s Anantapur Football League. This collaboration has already brought many sporting federations’ attention towards ASA, and put football at ASA in the international limelight. Apart from La Liga, Spanish clubs like Sant Vicenti and Sant Cugat have supported the growth of football culture since 2007. Hockey too, has seen an equal intervention of ‘One Million Hockey Legs’ started by hockey legend Floris Bovelander from Netherlands and ‘Stick For India’ by Santi Freixa and Andreu Enrich, Spanish players whose annual summer camps have helped in inculcating hockey culture in the district.

“To realize our vision of using sport as a sustainable tool in bringing social change in the lives of the children and youth from rural and underprivileged regions of Anantapur, we believe partnerships with a wide range of stakeholders are key. Which is why we are proud to have partnered with La Liga Foundation, as through our collaboration, we aim to reach to 2,000 children and youth, with a focus on girls, through football within rural Anantapur. Over these years with the continuous support from our local stakeholders including coaches, government schools, local sports federations, Physical Education Teachers (PET’s), parents and volunteers, we have been consistently strengthening our program and been able to move forward progressively, says Sai Krishna Pulluru, Sports Director at ASA, who emphasises parents have a greater role to play in motivating their children towards sports in India.

Substantiating the role of parents, Sai Krishna cited an example of a parent whose daughter is part of the ASA hockey program, “I remember B. Maheswari, one of our brightest athletes. I was amazed when her parents told me how proud they were of their daughter’s achievements, and how other girls in her neighbourhood wanted to be like her. She had become a role model and not for being someone’s daughter, but for being herself, for her effort and perseverance.”

Elaborating on how ASA is working towards providing an access to “Right to Play” and equal opportunities to the youth, Sai Krishna said, “One of the major reasons for discrimination to exist is the lack of access to opportunities. Hence, through ASA, we have been making efforts to reach out to as many children and youth from underprivileged communities to ensure they access these opportunities and progress further. Moving forward, we are focussing on gradually combining sport training with various activities pertaining to academic and life skills for achieving a sustainable change and development in children”.

“We are also in the process of launching a campaign to provide safe playing spaces combined with necessary support to promote girls participation in regions of Anantapur. As we believe sport, when provided in an interactive and structured environment, ensures that children, particularly females, learn the necessary skills and values to aid in their holistic development and enhance their future opportunities.”

The right to have an education, to practice a sport and to have a childhood without fear are fundamental rights that should never be taken for granted. Sport for development initiatives like ASA prove sports to be an effective tool to break gender stereotypes and unite people from different communities. ASA’s vision to promote sports throughout the district of Anantapur has provided children with a great opportunity to grow holistically and become active citizens of the society.