Sports as a means of social harmony and change

Shivranjani Gandhi, AIF Clinton Fellow 2020-21 (Photo courtesy of Shivranjani Gandhi)

Growing up, I was never much of a sportsperson. I looked at sports as something which was for people who are athletic by build and personality. However, I reinvented my whole relationship with sports while working with vulnerable groups in the development sector. Throughout the last couple of years, I have seen sports being used as a medium of connection, bonding, and team-building for diverse groups of people.

Sports participation leads to personal development, personal growth, social harmony, and social change (Wankel & Berger, 1990). It provides the person with the opportunity to be an engaged part of the community (Sherry, 2010).

My first introduction to this was when I was reading a colleague’s Master’s thesis. She researched how sports can lead to the dismantling of stereotypes and prejudice about different groups such as refugees in a school setting through different team-building activities. Such events can bridge the bonds broken through war, violence, and displacement (Spaaij, 2012).

During a cricket match at Deer Park, Delhi. (Photo courtesy of Shivranjani Gandhi)

My AIF Fellowship host organization, Turn Your Concern Into Action (TYCIA) Foundation, hosts weekly workshops under “Project Unlearn”. It aims to reduce gender-based violence by facilitating dialogue among diverse communities. The project has conducted workshops on power, privilege, meme culture, and sexism in Bollywood.

During December 2020, a workshop was conducted in Deer Park on gendered pathways in professional and personal life. The workshop was conducted with ex-inmates and volunteers working with the organization. During the workshop, everyone was given a profession and they had to describe the first person who comes to their mind when they think of the profession. This activity helped in reflecting on our biases, stereotypes, and attitudes towards people in male and female atypical professions. The negative consequences of such views for the individuals such as prejudice, harassment, and discrimination were discussed.

In closing, a friendly cricket match was played between the ex-inmates, volunteers, and team members. The match was an exciting opportunity for integration. Post this match, one volunteer stated how she never got the opportunity to play cricket before. She viewed sports are seen as a male-dominated profession. She reflected on how society sees “playing like a girl” as “weak” and “frail”. This made her reluctant to seek opportunities where she could be open and play sports.

This led me to ask myself that such activities bring enthusiasm, excitement, and vitality outside the prison so what is their impact inside the prison?
One such intervention was conducted in a Young Offenders Institution in South England. It showed that how such activities can have positive psycho social consequences and can be used to engage vulnerable groups in rehabilitative services (Parker et al., 2014). Another study reiterates how sports can lead to the re-engagement of prisoners in resettlement programs (Meek & Lewis, 2014).

These interventions give space for alternative methods and techniques when conventional means deem ineffective. More such programs need to be envisioned and implemented with robust monitoring while working with vulnerable groups to achieve constructive results. I look forward to individuals working with criminal justice reform implement more such programs in the Indian context.


Meek, R., & Lewis, G. (2014). “The Impact of a Sports Initiative for Young Men in Prison: Staff and Participant Perspectives”. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 38(2), 95–123.

Parker, A., Meek, R., & Lewis, G. (2014). “Sport in a Youth Prison: Male Young Offenders’ Experiences of a Sporting Intervention”. Journal of Youth -Studies, 17(3), 381–396.

Sherry, E. (2010). “(Re)engaging Marginalized Groups Through Sport: The Homeless World Cup”. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 45(1), 59–71.

Spaaij, R. (2012). “Beyond the Playing Field: Experiences of Sport, Social Capital, and Integration among Somalis in Australia”. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 35(9), 1519–1538.

Wankel, L. M., & Berger, B. G. (1990). “The Psychological and Social Benefits of Sport and Physical Activity”. Journal of Leisure Research, 22(2), 167–182.

*A previous version of this article was originally published on May 25, 2021, by the American India Foundation:

Author Bio:

Shivranjani is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with TYCIA Foundation in Delhi. For her fellowship project, she is designing and implementing a long-term impact monitoring and evaluation strategy to further the organization’s criminal justice reform work. Being a social and cultural psychologist by training, Shivranjani has developed a deep inclination towards several social and contemporary issues that can be researched and solved at an interdisciplinary level. Her passion for applying to the AIF Clinton Fellowship emanated from her personal and professional background. Her experience of working as a counsellor and life skills trainer with young people from different backgrounds has given her insights into the subjective lived realities of youth in India from an intersectional perspective. As a primary component of her Master’s degree in social and cultural psychology, she has lived, worked, and studied in four geographically and culturally distinct countries in Europe and Asia. These experiences have facilitated her process of understanding different migration systems and cultural systems in different countries through a gendered lens and given her a holistic perspective on the work conducted at TYCIA Foundation, her fellowship host organization. She is looking forward to serving as an AIF Clinton Fellow as it will provide her an invaluable opportunity to create a more empathetic, hopeful, and kinder society through action research by strengthening the projects to reduce recidivism and induce integration.

AIF’s William J. Clinton Fellowship for Service in India is a fully funded, interdisciplinary, experiential learning program that places young professionals in service with communities in India for ten months. In partnership with local NGOs, Fellows learn about inclusive leadership in poverty reduction through collaboration and capacity building.



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