From broken buckets to greater goals

Mumbai: In his little village, Oodlabarie in Assam, Hariskrishna loved to watch older kids playing football. Some of them even got to travel to tournaments around the country. He would dream of one day doing the same, but then reality would get in the way. His father was a tailor with a small clientele, and couldn’t afford to pay for the training he would need, or even the football gear. Harikrishna, like so many children born in humble circumstances, would often do part-time work to help pay the family bills; he would find employment as a snake catcher. Still, he played informal football whenever he could, enjoying himself thoroughly and hoping one day he’d make it big.

Chandni Tirki, also from a small Assam village, has a similar story, but with some extra obstacles: her father would insist that football was only for boys. She;s still play, though, running off whenever she could get time from her duties helping her family run a small shop.

Oma Chaudhury, a girl from Jaipur, was even further removed from the game. She had fallen in love with it watching matches on television, and longed to play herself, but her school did not have luxuries like a football ground.

None of these youngsters ever thought they’d ever really get to play the game seriously, in proper tournaments, travelling to other parts of the country to compete. But for all of them, dreams did come true. They all played in the just-concluded National Inclusion Cup 2017, organised by Slum Soccer, at the Andheri Sports Complex recently.

Football for development

Slum Soccer is a brand name owned by an organisation called Krida Vikas Sanstha (which translates to sports for development). It was started in in Nagpur in 2001 by Vijay Barse, a local sports teacher who spotted some children from a slum playing football with a broken bucket. He began organising regular weekend matches with children from other slums, and from there the organisation grew to include full-fledged training camps in various parts of the country as well as educational and healthcare workshops in various schools. Much of that expansion was done by Mr. Barse’s son, Abhijeet, a doctor who moved back from a job in the US in 2006 to take the initiative forward.

Today, the National Inclusion Cup is just for slum kids; it includes children from all kinds of underprivileged backgrounds. Many, for instance, are from rural areas across the country. The state teams that compete in the NIC are selected via Slum Soccer’s own training centres and networks, as well as through tie-ups with NGOs that work with sports. The Assam team, for example, is put together by an organisation called Kheltuar, which works with the children of labourers who have lost their jobs because of tea estates shutting down.

Opening doors

The ‘Slum Soccer’ name sounds demeaning to some, and is no longer quiet accurate as a descriptor, but that branding has helped the organisation tie up with others around the world who use sport, and football specifically, as a means of improving the lives of underprivileged children. The tournament director for the National Inclusion Cup, for instance, is from an organisation called Street Soccer in Scotland which, broadly, does the same kind of work that Krida Vikas Sansthan does in India. The avenues it opens up include that the 8 best men and women’s players from the NIC represent Indian in the Homeless World Cup, an international event now going into its 15th edition. Last year, the major funder for the NIC was Football for Hope, a CSR initiative of FIFA.

What happens after participants make it to the homeless world cup? One of the major success stories of the initiative, in sporting terms, was that last year, a girl from Haryana who was chosen as the best female player in the Homeless World Cup was scouted and recruited by a local club in Haryana. But that was an exception. Dr. Barse is fairly realistic about the fact that for many of the participants, a professional football career is not a prospect.

But the real outcome of Slum Soccer and the tournament itself is evident if you look at football not as an endpoint but as an entry into what is now a fairly large developmental network with sport at its core. Dr Barse says, “Over the years, we have built tie ups with various other NGOs that work with sport as well as with organisations like the UN and Unicef.” With Unicef, Slum Soccer organises programmes in schools in Central India that improve the quality of physical education imparted in schools. A programme called WASH in other schools teaches children the importance of sanitation and hygiene through football while another called Shakthi works to create a safe space for girls between the ages of 13 and 18 to play sport and build up their confidence and social skills.

Participants who have made it to the Homeless World Cup then, come back as referees for the national inclusion cup and are involved in the organisation of other events and programmes. Some have participated in global youth leadership camps organised by the United Nations.

Even more inclusive

This year’s NIC backed by corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds from Sony Pictures Networks India, and that has made a huge difference, Dr. Barse says, to the scope of the event that they were able to organise. “Sony didn’t just contribute money but also stayed on to help with branding and putting the word out about the tournament.” The extra funds allowed Slum Soccer to include 40 teams this year, up from 25 last year. “The work that we do gained more popularity and a lot of corporates started taking notice after we won the inaugural FIFA diversity award last year.” (The FIFA award is given to initiatives that stand up for diversity and inspire unity, solidarity and equality among people.)

“There is a great diversity in this year’s tournament says Sajid Jamal, 25, who works in the tournament’s organisation team and who formerly went as a manager with the Indian men’s team for the Homeless World Cup. “This year we were able to have strong teams, like the Jharkhand women’s team [who eventually won the women’s tournament; the men’s winner was Kerala] who I feel could compete with the men as well. But we were also able to accommodate a team like the girls’ team from Rajasthan, who had never played before. They didn’t win any matches but still enjoyed the experience.”

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2021 11:08:13 PM |

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