It may come as a surprise to learn that despite the global influence of, and participation in, sport of the near 200 nations on the planet just three have a National Sports Day; India, Japan and Qatar.
The first National Sports Day in India was held in August 2012 and was introduced to celebrate the birth date of hockey legend Dhyan Chand, widely regarded as the greatest field hockey player of all time. Chand, scorer of more than 1,000 goals between 1926 and 1948, won three consecutive Olympic gold medals, in 1928, 1932 and 1936. Legend has it that at the notorious Munich Olympics Adolf Hitler was so impressed with Dhyan’s wizardry with a hockey stick he is alleged to have offered him the opportunity to move to Germany, with German citizenship and take up a post as a colonel in the German army. Chand is believed to have declined, with a smile.
The first National Sports Day in 2012 comprised friendly hockey matches between different Indian teams and were held at the Dhyan Chand Memorial Stadium, New Delhi. The following year a walkathon and various football tournaments were added to the itinerary. The introduction of football was greeted with widespread approval, especially by FIFA vice president Prince Ali Ben Hussein, who was quoted as saying.
“I congratulate everyone for coming up with an idea such as this to celebrate National Sports Day….We ( FIFA) will initiate football for a social change programme in India.”
Qatar also introduced a National Sports Day in 2012 and predates the Indian celebration by six months as it is held on the second Tuesday of February. The Qatar National Sports Day was decreed in 2011 and was designed to encourage a healthy community across the nation. The aim was to improve health both physical and psychological and all sections of society are encouraged to participate including the disabled, of all ages and gender.
More than a dozen national sporting federations were involved in 2015 offering free activities and entertainment for every age and fitness level. Sports represented included; handball, basketball, shooting, table-tennis and football. Also available to participants was guidance to healthy eating and a general wellness programme.
Other activities available on the day were archery, larger than life chess and chequers, beach volleyball, bowling and boxing.
Japan is the only Far Eastern country to have a National Sports Day and unsurprisingly the aim is to foster sports and an active lifestyle.
The first Health and Sports Day in Japan was held in 1966, just two years after Tokyo was the setting for the Summer Olympic Games. The inaugural celebration, a national holiday, was in October, to avoid the Japanese rainy season. In 2000 the event was moved to the second Monday in October.
Many schools and businesses in Japan hold their annual field day on National Health and Sports Day and the array of activities stretches from traditional track and field events to rugby ball dribbling, tug of war and sack races.
Among the more bizarre events are; three-legged races, cartwheels, crawling under a net on hands and knees and a test of ingenuity and creativity, making a stretcher out of bamboo poles and a blanket then carrying an `injured` team mate, not to mention laundry hanging.
Parades kick off the day`s events, usually before 9am, and activities come to a close with a 4 x 100 meter relay or 100 meter sprint before prizes are awarded to the victors. Those prizes are generally useful household items such as; tissues, detergent, wax paper and cooking oil.
Although there are only three countries who hold a National Sports Day paradoxically, North Korea celebrates a Sports Day every second Sunday of every month and has done so since 1992.
It is perhaps significant that of the three nations who set aside a National Sports Day none is what could be considered a `hot-bed` of professional sport, although followers of cricket in India may disagree. Maybe the non National Sports Day nations could take a positive look at what is being achieved by such an event in India, Japan and Qatar.
Written by Brian Beard