Players benched by pandemic await flights home

Around 150 Sevens players, most from African countries, remain in various districts since March

July 17, 2020 06:05 pm | Updated 11:26 pm IST - S.R. Praveen

Ball of fire:  The Sevens season starts around November and peaks during April and May. Many foreign players, mostly from African countries, play for the teams.

Ball of fire: The Sevens season starts around November and peaks during April and May. Many foreign players, mostly from African countries, play for the teams.

Tetteh boarded the flight for his first season in the sevens football league in Kerala with a lot of dreams. But since mid-March, the Ghanaian footballer has not touched a football or hardly left the house in Edappal, where he has been staying with six other players from other countries. Around 150 foreign players like him, most from African countries, playing for Sevens football teams in various districts have been stranded in the State since March, according to the estimates of the Sevens Football Association.

“I reached Kerala in November and managed to play a lot of games till March. But, now I have spent almost all my money. I would have no savings when I get back home. As professional footballers, this has been a boring life, staying indoors and with no practise. The manager provides us with groceries and we cook at home,” says Tetteh.

Attempts are being made by their respective teams and associations to arrange chartered flights for them to return, but to no avail. The team managers have also been struggling to manage the expenses, with no revenue coming in. With the six-month visas of many of the players lapsing, the managers send periodical requests to the Foreign Regional Registration Office, which usually extends their visas by 15 days at a time considering the COVID-19 situation.

“We have already sent requests to the State and Central governments and to the various embassies to arrange flights for these players. Around 100 of them are from Ivory Coast while there are others from Cameron, Sierra Leone, Mali, Guinea, Ghana, and Nigeria. Now, a lot of voluntary organisations and individuals are also pitching in, like in the case of a player who had to be admitted to hospital with a rare kind of illness,” says Muhammad Mustafa, vice president of the Sevens Football Association, who manages the Royal Travels Football Club.

Three decades

The Sevens season starts around November and peaks during the school summer vacation months of April and May. Foreign players, who have featured at these matches for close to three decades now, get remuneration based on their experience. The more experienced ones get ₹3,000 to ₹4,000 per match while the freshers get ₹2,000 to ₹2,500. There would be an average of 20 to 25 matches for a team per month. The team’s revenue mainly comes from gate collection, which can be a decent amount as the Sevens matches usually get mammoth crowds.

“Most of the club owners are not rich like the traditional club owners. They are in it for the passion for the sevens game. Now, they as well as the players are struggling,” says Vinod, manager of the Fitwell Kozhikode team.

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