Slum Soccer Tournament 2012 - a first-hand account
When I first heard of slum soccer, I honestly did not expect much. It was, after all, just two or three teams consisting of boys who are playing ball just because they can kick something. I was, however, in complete shock when I watched their practice sessions. These boys were not rank amateurs; they were hand picked kids from underprivileged backgrounds who had the ability and talent to make any semi-pro club player look bad.
Slum soccer is the football leg of the NGO Krida Vikas Sansthan, which began in Nagpur and now has various centres and holds tournaments in different parts of the country. This time, their annual football tournament was held at the Ambedkar Stadium in New Delhi and I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to organize it here.
The tournament featured a total of 10 teams from 10 different states of India and was competitive right to the last match. All the teams featured players who were at least 16 years of age. The pitch, goal and team size (four-a-side) were all as per international FIFA rules, and indeed so were the players. The best eight players of the tournament will form a so-called Fantasy Team and will represent India at the Homeless World Cup in Poland and in the Community Cup in Australia next year.
No player can represent his country twice in the World Cup and hence all the selected players will be eager to make an impact in the only chance that they will get. I was told that though not a top team, India certainly makes a number of giant killings each year. A referee, who I nicknamed Gandhi because of his eagerness to visit Raj Ghat, fondly remembered a chipped goal he scored against Spain in the Paris edition a couple of years ago and even demonstrated an example of the same!
The energy and the talent of the teams were certainly tremendous. Dribbles and skills to get past the opposition were the usual in every match. It is definitely not easy to keep up their practice along side their daily work. For example, the Delhi Team consisted of school kids who can practice for only a couple of hours a day as they need to work with their respective parents after school. The same was the case with the J&K Team where just reaching their designated ground to play can take more than an hour.
Yet it was amazing to see these boys who have fought the hardships in their life to come out and play the beautiful game in its true spirit.
The tournament began in a league format in which all 10 teams played all of their opponents. Eight out of these 10 progressed to the next stage where two groups of four teams each were formed, two of them from each group progressing to the semi finals. As a neutral fan of football it was a treat to see these fast-paced four-a-side games, a few of which were settled via penalties, with each team taking one penalty only. The excitement was doubled during the semi-final stage with the teams from West Bengal, Goa, Jammu & Kashmir and Tamil Nadu vying for a berth in the final, which was ultimately played out between Goa and Jammu & Kashmir.
Goa lifted the trophy after a well-deserved win over their opponents. At the end the trophy and prize distribution ceremonies for the best players of the team, tournament and the two finalists were held.
Tournaments like these are not only good for Indian football and India’s image and her international reputation but are also helpful in giving these underprivileged boys a direction in a rather unconventional way, given where they come from, to make an earning and a name for themselves. I am really honoured to be a part of this attempt to improve lives.