With a rich legacy of nine decades, Railway Sports Promotion Board (RCPB) has been empowering the youth from marginalized communities to use sports as a career to climb up the social ladder and bring laurels to the nation. It has, thus, turned out to be a repository and nourisher of the best sporting talent in the country, providing innumerable career opportunities.
There is no dearth of sporting talent in India, a country of more than 1.3 billion people. But low socio-economic indicators prove to be inhibiting factors for the youth belonging to the not-so-privileged sections to find their calling in sports, notwithstanding their yearning to carve a place for themselves in life through sheer grit, perseverance, and commitment. Indian Railways has turned out to be a saviour for such kids, helping them find a way out of their poverty-stricken lives and climb further up the social ladder through the medium of sports. The Railway Sports Promotion Board (RSPB) has been providing an opportunity to the youth from marginalized communities who live on the fringes of society, to engage themselves in sports career, transcending their hapless surroundings.
These passionate youths have made their mark at the national and international games, thanks to the abundance of talent and commitment to sports in them. For these youths, life has changed for the better as sports career has given them new hopes and dreams. The youth have developed a sense of self-confidence and the self-belief necessary to succeed in life. A sense of discipline prevails, manifest in their showing up at the training grounds even before time and working rigorously with the help of the coaches, which is a familiar sight at the RSPB-supported sports establishments.
The Board has been providing all kinds of facilities right from nutrition, quality food, uniforms, infrastructure, modern equipment, state-of-the-art coaching, generous incentives, proper practice grounds to best employment conditions for the budding sports persons. It has led to inspiring success stories which have encouraged children from under-privileged communities to use sports as a career for improving their lives.
RSPB: Genesis and growth
The RSPB came into existence with the establishment of the Indian Railways Athletic Association in 1928. The name was changed to the Railway Sports Control Board in 1956 and to Railway Sports Promotion Board in 1998 so as to bring the nomenclature in tune with the functions of the Board.
With a long and illustrious tradition of providing all-out support for sporting talent, Indian Railways has time and again made the country’s flag fly high. Over the years, right from the inception, sportspersons from the Railways have represented India in the Olympics, the Asian Games, Commonwealth Games, World Championships and other national and international meets with incredible success. Railway players have made the nation proud in different sports with their stellar performances.
The list of eminent awardees from Indian Railway includes 20 recipients of Padmashree, four Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, 160 Arjuna Award, 10 Dhyan Chand Award, 8 Dronacharya Award, and 2 Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar.
With the tagline of “Thinks Sports Think Railways”, the RSPB has till date produced 2013 Olympians. Of the 21 Olympic medals that India has won to date, the Railways has contributed to 13 of them. Wrestling, weightlifting, boxing, women’s hockey, women’s cricket, and indigenous games such as Kho Kho, ball badminton, and Kabaddi are the sports in which the Railways has produced national and international champions. The likes of Vijender Singh, Akhil Kumar, Jitendra Kumar, Manoj Kumar, Mandeep Jangra, Sushil Kumar, Sakshi Malik, Mithali Raj, and Diana Eduljee have their roots in the Railways.
At the Rio Olympic Games, 2016, the Indian railways’ contingent comprised of 1/3rd of the entire Indian Olympic contingent of 118 members, thus becoming the biggest contributor amongst all sports organisations in the country. In fact, almost the entire Indian women hockey team comprised of Railway players, as was the weightlifting team. Earlier, in the 2012 London Olympics 12 Railways sportspersons had participated out of 81 Indian athletes, a remarkable manifestation of the Indian Railways’ support for sports. Continuing its run of glory in the country’s sports arena, the RSPB exhibited a spectacular performance at the South Asian Games 2016 held in Guwahati – out of the 81 Indian Railways sportspersons who participated, 76 were medal winners.
Empowering Women through Sports
Indian Railways’ employee Sakshi Malik ended India’s long anxious wait for Olympic Medal at Rio Olympics 2016 by winning the Bronze in the 58-kg category of women’s freestyle wrestling. She became the first women wrestler from India to win an Olympic medal. It will be worthwhile to point out that it was Indian Railways which took the lead in raising the entire women wrestlers’ team of India for the first time and in a way provided a new career option to Indian women.
The Indian Railways, quite rightly has contributed a lot towards the rise of women’s cricket in India, the results of which were seen in the in the recent ICC Women’s World Cup held in England in 2017. As many as 10 of the 11 members of the women’s cricket team, runners-up in the 2017 World Cup, were from Railways. Their spirited show in the tournament won hearts all over the country. One of the key figures of the Indian team was charismatic skipper Mithali Raj, who was scintillating with the bat. Vice-captain Harmanpreet Kaur hit a stunning 171 unbeaten, propelling India into the finals. In recognition of their achievements, a cash reward of Rs 1.30 crore was awarded to 10 members of the Indian women’s cricket team, employed with Indian Railways, besides promotions for all members of the team and an out-of-turn elevation for Mithali and Kaur to gazetted officer rank.
The contribution of the RSPB to the Indian women’s cricket team’s extraordinary performance has been exemplary. Other than employing the players, it also provided them with the time to focus on cricket and keep up with their fitness which helped them perform so brilliantly at the highest level.
In fact, the organisation has come up with a scheme of excellence where players get 330 days off to work on their game that has really helped them to improve their individual games and given them more opportunities to work as a team.
The RSPB has made the single largest contribution in almost all the disciplines it has been involved, producing some of the biggest names in Indian sports.
Hockey: In hockey, Railways has produced several notable sportsmen such as Pargat Singh, Harbinder Singh, Mukhbain Singh, Mohd Shahid and Bhaskaran, to name a few. Not only that, it has played a great part in the formation of a number of federations with hockey taking the most important role, that of being a founder member. In a country where corporate sponsors shower endorsements on cricketers, institutions like the Railways continue to be a significant contributor to the development of hockey.
Cricket: In cricket, legends such as Nari Contractor, Lala Amarnath, Diana Edulji, Mithali Raj, MS Dhoni all began their careers playing for the Railways.
Badminton: This sport is also well represented, with the likes of Suresh Goel, Syed Modi and Madhumita Bisht having their roots in railways.
Athletics: If Athletics has been where Railways have always represented India, then P.T. Usha, Jyotirmoyee Sikdar, Shiny Abraham, Shakti Singh, Bahadur Prasad, JJ Shobha, Seema Punia, K M Beenamol, M D Valsamma, Sudha Singh, Soma Biswas, and Lalita Babar will forever be remembered as the shining lights from the Railways.
Wrestling: Indian Railway sportspersons brought laurels to the nation in the Commonwealth Wrestling Championship at Johannesburg, South Africa from 15 to 17th December, 2017. Indian Railways sent 20 players out of the 60-member Indian wrestling team. Railway wrestlers contributed 10 medals in Free Style (Men category), 3 medals in Greco Roman Style (Men category), and 7 medals in “Women” Category for India out of 20 medal-winning performances in the Championship.
Fostering Sports Spirit
With a legacy stretching back to 90 years, RSPB is inculcating an abiding culture of sports in the country, providing sports infrastructure in the remotest of places. In fact, railways has emerged as a long sustaining career path for sportspersons. Even after the end of their sports career, players from the railways are employed in different streams such as coaching, recruiting, grooming, and providing technical resources for other sports federations. Proving to be the backbone for other federations in terms of technical and other supports, they are ably fostering the national sporting movement in the country.
Thanks to the RSPB, young and talented sportspersons from the hinterland are no longer a frustrated lot because of a lack of job opportunities, which might have led to the dipping of enthusiasm among youngsters for sports. In fact, the Board has been a trendsetter by boosting the morale of sportspersons in terms of providing job security, a congenial environment, and facilities for budding sportspersons to develop their talents, helping them achieve the pinnacle of glory.