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Kicking off a change

Football fever: Race course MGR Stadium is buzzing with football players in Madurai. Photo: S. James

Football fever: Race course MGR Stadium is buzzing with football players in Madurai. Photo: S. James   | Photo Credit: S_James

The FIFA World Cup has set the ball rolling in and around Madurai and sports clubs and football fans hope to revive the dwindling interest in the game

“Block the ball, stop them from advancing,” yells coach R. Yagna Srinivasan at one of his players. The friendly game between the Acme Football Club and Sports Hostel Boys is being played with vigour. “We need such matches to regroup ourselves as it is the start of the new season,” says Yagna Srinivasan, who will beam the matches live on a big screen for the benefit of football fans in and around Burma Colony near Tirunagar.

“I am a regular on the field and I would like to perfect the rainbow shot,” says M. Kumar, a former State under-14 player. One constantly hears the names of Messi, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho in conversations. The anticipation of the world cup has also sparked widespread football activities across the town.

Cashing in on the spirit, the Madurai District Football Association (MDFA), Physical Education Teachers Association and Focus Genext, an NGO conducting sports awareness programmes in schools, organised a rally last week with a slogan ‘Our India, Our Football’. More than 200 players including 15 para-athletes took part in the event. Along with the Local football club in Usilampatti, Focus Genext will be screening the opening ceremony and other matches from semi-finals stage live at Usilampatti.

“You need such sporting extravaganzas to motivate young players,” says K. Pown Radha, national referee and match commissioner for MDFA. Till two decades ago, the city’s football calendar was packed with national and state-level tournaments. In fact, the craze for football in this town was such that the Race Course MGR Stadium was built for football with flood lights facility. Players both young and old used to throng the stadium. “The situation is different now. The numbers are dwindling in recent years. The once-popular Sevens tournaments are extinct now. Those who played these matches had the opportunity to learn fundamental football skills. Unless tournaments like these are revived, the future of football here is a big question mark,” he says.

Echoing the same view, G. Sokkanathan, personal coach for former Indian international Raman Vijayan, attributes lack of employment opportunities as the main reason for the declining interest in the game. “Earlier, banks and government departments recruited players for their team. But now they want talents only as guest players and not as permanent staff,” he says.

But this year there has been an overwhelming response to the annual football coaching camp this summer. “We had a good number of entries,” says Murugan, District Sports Officer, Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu. “Most of them were first time visitors to the stadium. More than the boys the enthusiasm of the parents is heart warming,” he says.

Murugan feels that the onus lies on the physical education teachers and heads of institutions as they have to encourage their students to play football in their schools. In an attempt to educate them, the SDAT and district administration has planned to organise an orientation programme in the last week of this month. “The State Government has sanctioned funds to grass the ground and also provided facility to water the arena,” he says.

Rise of local clubs like Acme FC augurs well for the game. The club promotes the game by enrolling students residing in and around Burma Colony. The club members now have a ground of their own at Thenpazhanji. “We are levelling the ground and soon we will be hosting tournaments at our place,” says Yagna Srinivasan.

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Printable version | Mar 26, 2020 3:30:28 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/kicking-off-a-change/article6104525.ece

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