Nature is the world’s best playground. The journey of humankind started by playing with nature, gently and without hurting it. Our ancestors played in nature’s lap, whether it was cricket, football, golf or any other game. But, when we got civilized and technologically advanced, we started building big playgrounds and stadiums. Because it became the need of time. Apart from playing, we liked to enjoy what others play.
Over the course of years, many changes followed suit. When the games became sports through formalization, unification and commercialization, we needed big green playgrounds and concrete stadiums to host modern sports. And big playgrounds demanded huge investment. For instance, the maintenance of a single stadium and its greenish pitch requires 20,000 litres of water per day to maintain a football pitch in the English Premier League and 10,000,000 litres of water a year as the Ethical Consumer Magazine estimates.
Today, the modern sport has become a big employer and revenue option for developed countries in North American, European and Australian continents. They are making good money from their sports infrastructures like stadiums, golf courses, motorsports circuits, hippodromes and ballparks. But have we ever thought about the damages it is causing to the environment?
The answer is an emphatic ‘no’. Their investment in sports and the employment opportunities, revenue and social health benefits generated cannot justify the damage they have caused. The case is no different in developing countries like India and Brazil by damaging hectares of lands.
In India, we have many big stadiums of a global standard like Greenfield Stadium in Kerala and TranStadia in Gujarat. These stadiums use litres of water every day for maintaining their beautiful green pitches, the same as Old Trafford, the home ground of Manchester United.
But, when Old Trafford hosted more than 20 matches every year and attracted hundreds of paid visitors every day Greenfield hosted just one international cricket match per year till 2019. Though the TranStadia hosted various sporting and non-sporting events like the Mission XI Million Football Festival in association with AIFF & FIFA U17 World Cup, Pro Kabaddi League 2017, 30th Asian Table Tennis Championship, concert by AR Rahman and the 72nd Santosh Trophy – a national level football tournament in India, most of these events did not have any public interest and impact.
So what are we gaining from it?
Greenfield Stadium and TranStadia are private stadiums. If this is the case of privately owned stadiums you can well imagine the state of government-owned stadiums. For hosting the FIFA U17 World Cup, 4 world-class practice grounds were constructed in Ernakulam. Among them, only one was occupied by the Kerala Blasters Football Club as their practice grounds and the others remained idle most of the year. So when it comes to India, the returns from the investments are almost nil besides causing environmental hazards.
To talk further, the Olympics and World Cup football are two notorious events that are proving hazardous to both nature as well as the local economy.
The demand of the International Olympics Committee (IOC) and the FIFA as per their standards force the hosts to construct or renovate stadiums, practice grounds and other facilities. This damages the environment and economy. The city of Rio damaged hectares of green space for constructing a new golf course as instructed by the IOC. Sadly, after the Olympics or World Cup Football most of the stadiums remained underused, unused or abused.
Hence, it has become the need of the hour that the sports fraternity must seriously think about the damages sports are causing to our environment and must discuss ways to make sports nature friendly. At a time when we are trying badly to cope with nature’s fury let this World Environment day be a gentle reminder.
The Sports Policy Research Team of Sports & Management Research Institute (SMRI) recommends the following for nature-friendly sports ecosystem for developing countries like India and Brazil
- No more sports infrastructure. Use the existing infrastructure judiciously and generate revenue, employment and social health benefits.
- Promote zero infrastructure, zero carbon, low-cost water games such as swimming, canoeing, water polo, water volleyball, water throwball, water basketball, bamboo raft race, coracle race etc in natural water bodies
- Promote zero infrastructure, zero carbon, low-cost beach games such as beach football, beach cricket, beach volleyball, beach kabaddi, beach runs etc
- Promote mud games like mud kabaddi, mud football, mud handball etc in agricultural fields after harvest and unused lands
- Promote zero infrastructure, zero carbon, low-cost road games such as cycling, short distance runs (Not marathons)
- Promote farm games such as farm cricket, volleyball, throwball, badminton
- Tournaments of the above-mentioned games can be organized with mobile bleachers
Sports & Management Research Institute (SMRI) is working with Ave Stella Maris College, Kizhumuri and Ramamangalam Gramapanchayat, Ernakulam to make Ramamangalam, the first sports tourism village of India based on the above-mentioned recommendations. Salt Walk, a piloting community walk was organized at Ramamangalam in May 2021. The project, which was planned to start on June 5, 2021, was postponed due to the Covid19 lockdown and will kick start soon.