Making a career in sports in India can be a step easier, thanks to initiatives like these.
Big tournaments, national awards, philanthropy, a team of world class coaches and an outreach of 4,000 villages in seven states of India — one would imagine it to be a charitable organisation run by a businessman or the likes. But when one hears about the humble beginnings of the non-profit, Society for Transformation, Inclusion and Recognition through Sports (STAIRS), one is inspired.
The organisation is working towards sports, education, health and skill development of children as was once envisioned by its founder Siddhartha Upadhyay.
“I was 20 years old and wanted to do philanthrophy. I did not want to get old to do so and I believed that anything that you do with your full heart in it, grows. I didn’t have a stable career then but I knew I wanted to contribute to the society. I also wanted to do something that had affected me somewhere and sports was one thing that was very close to my heart. It contributed a lot to my own growth. So I decided to take this ahead,” shares Siddhartha. He started the NGO when he had a job that paid him Rs 4,500 and started contributing from his own pocket to help children pursue sports.
“I was doing odd jobs too but I was very clear that things will work out. I was always on track and I knew that sports helps in overall development. I believed in the power of sports and one day I just started with the sports equipment that I had in my own house. I went out of my house and just started playing with the kids and as that continued, more kids joined us,” he adds. With that confidence, he actively pursued the charity work.
With the money he earned at work, he continued to buy sports equipment for years, before other people started contributing in terms of time and money. “Being in marketing and sales job also helped me with some ideas. When the number of kids started increasing, I started making teams and started conducting several matches. It grew bit by bit,” he shares.
But the road was not without hurdles. “People close to me thought I am a shirker and running away from real work. I was told I was not building a proper career and everyone laughed at me. But it seemed people did not understand the importance of sports like I did. Even today, people from certain class backgrounds are too scared to make a career out of sports. The kids who love sports don’t know if they can take it up as a career. There is a big risk involved, many people have a lot of things at stake, and I understand that,” says Siddhartha.
Today, the NGO has several programs where children train at a professional level as well as engage in sports at a social level. “We have a Khelo program where we have a number of games to promote a feeling of sportsmanship, social engagement and wholistic growth. We also promoted sports according to popularity in different regions. Under Khelo we have over 4,000 villages that are affected by STAIRS,” shares Siddhartha.
While a number of people have played for the country, not all children who get associated with the NGO reach that level. “But we did realise that it was important to coach such talent as well, which is when we started with our professional coaching programs where sports like cricket, football and almost 15 Olympic sports have been included. We wanted to produce professional players, not just fans,” he explains.
Today the Uflex STAIRS School Football League (SSFL) scouts talent, builds teams and trains players. While these players are generally within the age bracket of 14 and 18, Siddhartha says, “In India you have to start from scratch while training due to a lack of a culture of sports,” he shares. The NGO also taps into the talent that might not be enrolled in schools.
STAIRS has also bagged the ‘Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puruskar 2016’ award in recognition of its contribution towards the ‘identification and nurturing of budding and young talent’ at the grassroots level in India.