An inclusive sports culture can help India achieve SDG, says Priyal Keni
Priyal is also a proud recipient of the prestigious Shiv Chhatrapati Award - a recognition that is conferred to the best sports personalities in the state of Maharashtra.
Very few sports persons get the opportunity to represent their country on an international platform. International sporting events like the Olympics have enabled athletes from around the globe to represent their nation, irrespective of the popularity of sport in their home country.
Rifle shooting is one such sport that is gaining momentum in India. Until 2008, when Abhinav Bindra won the first individual Olympic gold medal for the nation in the 10m Air Rifle event, the sport had remained highly underrated.
One of India’s youngest rifle shooters of her time - Priyal Keni achieved international success and milestones very early on. Not only has she broken 3 national records, but she has also bagged a total of 117 medals at the national and state level. Priyal is also a proud recipient of the prestigious Shiv Chhatrapati Award - a recognition that is conferred to the best sports personalities in the state of Maharashtra.
Being a member of the Indian Shooting team for almost 7 years, she started her journey at the tender age of 13. “Looking back, I am always amused at the courage and dedication I had to learn rifle shooting at such an early age. I would spend hours training at the shooting range, holding a 6.5kg weapon in the scorching heat, working on refining my technique - and I wouldn’t wish it any different.”, says Priyal Keni.
At the age of 15, she made her international debut in Germany. Reminiscing about it today, she says, “I had learned how to juggle between academics and sports with immense support from my school and college. I was determined to follow my academic aspirations to earn a good education qualification but I was also committed to my sport.” Over the next 7 years, she represented India at top international competitions including the World University Games and the World Championships.
Today, Priyal is a qualified chartered accountant and is working in the consulting domain. She has managed to strike a perfect balance between her academic and sports career with finesse.
During her academic stride, Priyal volunteered with several NGOs and social initiatives that worked for underprivileged children. This put her on the field and she understood the ground reality of the quality of education that was available to them. The curriculum designed for these children lacked a holistic approach, with zero emphasis on non-academic activities such as learning soft skills, engaging in sports and personal development.
Being a sportsperson herself, Keni was cognizant of the innumerable benefits holistic learning has and how it can be used as a tool to foster individual and cognitive development. Her pursuit to merge her passion for sports with entrepreneurship and social work saw her co-establish a non-profit initiative named the ‘Play and Shine Foundation’ in 2018. Its aim is to make sports more accessible for the betterment of underprivileged children.
In a short span of time, Priyal Keni has managed to create a considerable social impact by spearheading a group of more than 400 volunteers, who are involved across different projects, working at the intersection of sports and sustainability. Her team has worked with the Tata Sustainability Group, children under the Teach for India program and the Unnat Bharat Abhiyan. They are also actively involved in promoting sports in one of Maharashtra’s largest villages, Karjat.
Priyal has always been a strong advocate of the sustainable development goals prescribed by the United Nations. She recently delivered a TEDx Talk titled ‘Sports for Sustainability’ where she shared her thoughts on using sports as a tool to achieve the sustainable development goals.
“Promoting an inclusive sports culture will open new doors to work towards dissolving the prevailing regional, gender-based, and communal disparities which still exist in our country”, revealed Priyal. “When you’re on the field, it does not matter what background, sexual orientation, or disability you come with. I can only hope that we can allow every child in the country to believe that everyone is equal and deserves to be treated equally”.
Her vision for the Play & Shine Foundation is to positively impact 1 million individuals by the end of 2023.
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