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Franz Gastler and Yuwa India: A man and an initiative that deserve respect!

Modified 30 Oct 2013, 14:40 IST

Franz Gastler with a few of his YUWA girls

Not much of a cultural person, blogging live at TURF 2013 (5th Global Sports Summit and India Sports Awards) at FICCI, New Delhi turned out to be a pretty pleasant surprise. And add to that, it was a big eye-opener as well!

We often keep complaining about how there is no effort whatsoever from the authorities end when it comes to development of sports other than cricket. Well guess what, that’s just a base sentimentality.

There were numerous debates ranging from the current challenges, hurdles on the path to having a successful Olympics 2016, and women in sports to how CSR should be Corporate Sports Responsibility as well as the Sector Skills initiative that have streamlined the nurturing and development of young talent in UK and partnering nations. To get you lot interested, Jack Wilshere, the combative Gunner, is the biggest local success story in recent times, and the Skills Active in UK has a big role in that.

But anyway, all of the above is just a gist of my experience during TURF 2013@FICCI. What I really want to write about is the YUWA India program being run by Franz Gastler. His presentation was part of the last session on the first day, and boy was it inspiring!

He’s been living in Jharkhand for about 5 years now and is the founder of YUWA football academy which is meant to help slum girls in Jharkhand and adjoining areas. The manner of operation of this academy is anything but conventional. It started out with 15 girls and now, the strength is close to 600. Instead of the coaches doing the talk and selection, it’s the players who take the decisions when taking new members in. The coaches just guide the girls on the game of football.

I have attended a fair few summits till now and in most of them, the ones on the dais are pretty calculated about what to say. But Franz, well, he was as straightforward and upfront as they come. He explained about the true state of apathy and abuse that these girls faced within the system, and how this programme is like a springboard for the development of these girls. YUWA has a simple philosophy – of playing the game in the spirit of the game and funnelling out all the politics, which makes it a “Happy Football Club”!

Now despite everything he has achieved, Franz was humble enough to say that all of it isn’t something out of the ordinary, and that with a little initiative, anyone can do it. The reality though is that he, being from Harvard Law School, Boston University, could have chosen the cliche’d and conventional route. But he has given up all his comforts, and has been living in one of the most backward and hostile  regions in India and doing something that really does make a difference.

As a football fan, there is nothing more heartening than to see the sport aid the empowerment of the young female youth of our nation. I hope the comparison isn’t exaggerated or disrespectful in any way, but looking at what Franz Gastler has accomplished and is still doing with YUWA India, he is to the girls of Jharkhand what Sam Childers is to the children of South Sudan.

Published 30 Oct 2013, 11:39 IST
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