The Australian Sikh Games: Past, Present and Future

By Tanvir Kaur and Parminder Singh

By the time you read this article, the 2010 Brisbane Sikh games will be fast approaching or already upon you, and you, the reader, will be coming into the reading of this article amidst the excitement and grandeur of what has become the single largest sporting event in the annual Australian Sikh calendar.

This year the games have turned twenty-three. They have passed through the age of infancy and childhood years, through the often turbulent teens and emerged out into their early twenties.  In two years time the Sikh Games will be celebrating its silver jubilee, a not inconsiderable achievement for an event which started out with such humble beginnings.

In 1988 the Sikh games started out with only 5 teams, with Field Hockey being the only sport played. When the Australian Sikh games were introduced in 1988, it was just an extension of club hockey games which had been played between Adelaide Sikhs and Port Augusta Hockey Club since 1986. The next year, the Australian Sikh games, which was held in Melbourne, was a much larger event, having been extended to include Netball, Soccer and Kabbadi, and with even more participation from inter-state Sikh teams. In the 1990 Sydney Sikh Games, 'track and field' events and golf were also incorporated. In 1994 at the Sydney Sikh Games, Volleyball and Tug-of-War were both introduced to great success. They remain, to this day, highly popular at every Sikh games. Since then, Perth, Brisbane, Renmark and Woolgoolga/Coffs Harbour have also hosted the Games with great success.

Brisbane has been a pioneer in many aspects. At the 1992 Brisbane Sikh Games, Langar (free kitchen) was introduced, in 2004 Cricket and Women’s Soccer were both introduced and now, in the 2010 Brisbane Sikh Games, Touch Football has been introduced and met with great enthusiasm. The opening and closing ceremony, prize distribution and all Kabbadi games will be shown live on the internet.

Each year the number of teams participating in the Sikh games has generally increased, with an exception of two years, the 2005 games, held in Renmark and the 2008 games, held in Perth. This, along with other available data, shows that there is strong participation from cities along the East Coast, and a drop off in participation when the games have been held in a West Coast city or a rural area. In order for the games to be a truly uniting experience for Sikhs, it should be endeavoured for all Sikh Games, no matter where they are held, to always hold a high level of significance and hence to inspire participation, from all Sikhs both nationally and internationally.

This year, the Sikh games have almost 115 teams participating, including the teams for cultural events, making it the most highly participated in games yet. So in twenty-three years, the games have grown to approximately twenty-three times what they were when they first started.

This year’s participants are comprised of: 

  • Kabbadi: 18 teams
  • Soccer: 31 teams
  • Cricket: 26 teams
  • Volleyball: 10 teams
  • Touch football: 8 teams
  • Netball: 4 teams
  • Field Hockey: 5 teams
  • Tug of War: 3 teams
  • Golf ,
  • Wrestling,
  • Athletics,
  • Bhangra,
  • Giddha and
  • Gataka teams.

The age of participants ranges from those participating in the under-13s to those in the over-45s category. There are 5 Women Soccer teams and 4 Women Netball teams. So the participation is well spread across all age groups and both genders. There are 30 local teams and the remaining 85 teams are travelling from interstate and overseas. Two teams are participating from New Zealand and Singapore.  

The annual Sikh games are a meeting point for Sikhs from all over Australia. We must now ask ourselves how these games can be utilized better to discuss problems faced by the Sikh community; whether it be economic, social, religious, political, educational or any other. In the coming years the Australian Sikh community must deal with many issues, such as the wave of immigration of Sikh students who require guidance and support in order to adjust to and embrace their new lives here in Australia. The active involvement of these students in the organisation and participation in the Sikh games should now be encouraged.

An issue which must also be addressed in the coming games is the alarming stagnation in the participation of women in the games. While there has been much growth in other areas of the games, such as the number of different types of sport played, there has been no significant increase in the number of female Sikhs playing over the last ten years. There must be a reason to hope that women will not always only assume the role of spectator and supporter, important as these roles are, but as an active participator who not only can watch from the sidelines, but can enter the playing field to participate, get involved and to generate spectators and supporters of their own. There is no doubt that the women who already play have much support from their friends and family, however more young women in the Australian Sikh Community should be fiercely encouraged to play in these games, so that in another ten years time their numbers have grown, as opposed to remaining the same as they were last year, 5 years ago, 10 years ago. 

In looking towards the future, another issue which arises concerning the future of the Sikh Games is what role the National Committee should play to give future directions for the games to come. One of the first steps may be to find a long-term sponsor of the games and to consider selling naming rights. There are many constraints to finding a sponsor and much time and effort by the committee is put into first finding sponsors. Another step would be for all games committees to keep all files and information in electronic form, thereby simplifying to passing on of information year to year.

Many other smaller but no less important ideas should be discussed and acted upon; such as whether there should be a fixed deadline for form submissions which is the same every year, collaboration with state and federal governments, getting the Annual Sikh Games onto the national calendar of sporting events, the issue of non-Sikh players’ participation being resolved once and for all, and so on.

The Sikh Games are a meeting ground for Sikhs from all over Australia and overseas and as such they should be treated as not only an occasion for competiveness and rivalry, but as a chance for Sikhs to unite and foster friendships and community spirit. The trend of negative and unsportsmanlike behaviour from players and spectators alike is a cause for much alarm and should be heartily discouraged, with the aid of penalties and other means.

With all the above issues and ideas in mind, the Sikh Games are ready to move forward. They can be expanded to include even more teams from both Australia and overseas, to include an even greater variety of sports with a greater number of participants from both genders and all age groups.

The table below summarises the progress of the Australian Sikh Games. The information is not complete and has been kindly supplied by the Secretary of the Australian National Sikh Sports And Cultural Council (ANSSACC), Jasbir Singh Randhawa, and is based on past games’ Souvenir magazines. The information is not complete and a request is now made for readers to come forward who can supply the missing information, so that this important history of the Australian Sikh Games is not lost. With the games’ Silver Jubilee only two years away it will be good to have this missing information. 

(Please do not reproduce this article or any part of this article without the expressed permission of the authors)

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