The earnest talent scouts of the underprivileged

Andrew, 19, is going to represent India in the Homeless World Cup Football Tournament in Norway this August. For youngsters who grew up in an orphanage in the city, this is no simple feat.

When Andrew started playing football four years ago, it didn’t take his coach Tejas R. long to realise that the boy had a special talent. But for Tejas – a professional freestyle footballer who spends his time coaching schoolchildren – Andrew would have never imagined that he could enjoy this opportunity.

Most children don’t have access to training resources or get a chance to showcase their skills in a particular sport. Fortunately, over the last few years, Bengaluru has seen a rise in initiatives by individuals and organisations who believe that empowerment and social mobility can be achieved through sports.

One such group is the Rebels Foundation, launched on World Football Day on December 10, 2016, founded by Kavya Ananth – a project intern at Narayana Hrudayalaya. The 24-year-old and her like-minded friends used their own funds to start the foundation, which has tied up with the Sports Authority of India (SAI). In a short span of time, the foundation has been able to reach out to eight government schools. It has selected 30 students who have a knack for football.

“These children are being trained by international coaches at the facility provided by SAI thrice a week. We are happy to find football talent among girls as well. Of the 30 selected for training, 15 are girls,” said Ms. Ananth.

The foundation plans to start a three-year residential programme for training such children in the near future. “Right now, the focus is on football. We want to train at least 2,500 children in the game and get them into professional clubs. After this, we will move on to other sports,” she added.

Tejas started Sparky Football four years ago. Currently, 200 children from orphanages and slums train under him. An engineering dropout, Mr. Tejas was unhappy with the football scene in the country and decided to tap into slums and children’s homes for talent.

Imparting life skills

“Football can be used to impart life skills to students. I formed my own curriculum, that includes everything from tying a shoe lace to scoring a goal. The sessions are customised to the students. If I am training children from slum, the curriculum will include classes focused on anger management, the importance of education, the ills of drug abuse. For those from privileged sections of society, it is all about character building and interpersonal skills,” Mr. Tejas said. He works in the mornings as a professional freestyle footballer and coaches students in the evening. The money that he makes from training privileged students is used to fund Sparky Football.

Many heart-warming stories that have emerged from Sparky Football. For instance, a school dropout, Ebenezer, who lives in Cox Town slum, returned to school after going for football classes.

“Today he attends classes in college and educates others in his slum. Apart from this, 10 of my students were selected to represent Karnataka in National Inclusion Cup last month. Football has really made a difference in their lives,” said Mr. Tejas.

The Bengaluru Sports Lovers Association (BSLA) decided to take a different route to support sports. Members started organising open football matches and used the money raised from registrations to support an NGO and develop talent. BSLA was started by Payel Chowdhuri, a former amateur football league player and Mohun Bagan fan, along with a few other friends. In its first year, BSLA has organised four football tournaments and one each in badminton and table tennis.

However, a lot more needs to be done to make sports every child’s right, says Elvis Joseph, one of the pioneers in making a social impact through sports with his Bangalore Schools Sports Foundation.

Mr. Joseph, a professional athlete, who started working with children in 2009, runs various programmes such as Magic Feet, where he offers football training to slum children, and Invisible Talent, where he works with children and youth in remand homes.

He is currently training 300 girls from slums and construction sites in football. Twenty-five are preparing to participate in the Children’s Olympics to be held in Israel next year.

“Social service through sports should be more than just giving jerseys and shoes to children. The impact will only be visible when children from underprivileged sections perform in international events. Many of these children are immensely talented. All they need is the right support and training,” said Mr. Joseph.

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Printable version | Sep 16, 2020 7:48:31 PM |

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