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Slumdog Pele: Football with a social cause

IANS
FEATURED WRITER
News
926   //    18 Dec 2012, 17:13 IST

New Delhi - If a slumdog can be a millionaire why can’t he be a star footballer?

Yes, a Nagpur-based NGO has successfully tried to wean the slumdwellers from the evils they are easily attracted to by keeping them on a football field so that can get out of the clutches of slumlords who only initiate them to crime, bloodshed and drugs. In a novel enterprise, Slum Soccer-Krida Vikas Sansthan from Nagpur is making the youths learn skills of the game and to be meaningfully competitive.

These youngsters may not have heard of Nani, who like them was raised as underprivileged child in Portugal and is today a winger of repute playing for English Premier League giants Manchester United, or of Carlos Tevez who has had a much worse childhood before becoming a star striker of United’s city rivals Manchester City.

But like these two, they too must dream big and there is not a better place for that than a sports field. The concept of slum soccer is catching on and the Nagpur initiative is giving the underprivileged youngsters a chance to stand toe-to-toe with the rest of the community and dream of becoming a star footballer one day.

The tournament is held only for the underprivileged youths in the country with the best eight players in the tournament selected to represent India in the Homeless World Cup, where 63 nations participate every year.

For the wide-eyed wonder-struck kids football has become a way of life, a vehicle to break the social prejudices and forget life’s hardships. Their immediate goal is the 2013 Homeless World Cup to be played in Poland.

Take the case of Shurojit Bhattacharya, it symbolises the hard work ethic the 100-odd players playing in this edition being played at the Ambedkar Stadium in the national capital.

“I played in Bangalore in the last tournament. I saw Italy lifting the World Cup in 2006 beating France. From then on football has taken over my mind. My aim now is to play for India’s national team and I hope that dream comes true one day,” the 17-year-old told IANS.

Shurojit’s mother works as a sex worker in Sonagachi, one of Asia’s largest red-light districts, while his father works in a furniture shop.

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“Through football I have become popular in my hostel and I have also made a lot of friends. I have become more disciplined and my life is more streamlined.”

“Earlier people used to avoid me and call me names, now they use the names of legendary footballers to address me. I am happy with the transformation.”

“Last year I went to see an I-League match between East Bengal and Churchill Brothers at Salt Lake Stadium and never have I had so much fun.

Captain of the Karnataka team, Revanna, said that his aim was to give back to the society whatever he has got from it.

The 21-year-old, who took part in the Mumbai half-marathon in January, is not just a football enthusiast but a sports fanatic with rugby and running being his favourite pastimes.

Revanna, a graduate from Vivekananda College, Bangalore, hasn’t had it easy in life. He lost his parents at a young age and with no immediate family, the Bangalorean has had to fend for himself.

But against all odds and a little help from NGOs, he has overcome adversity and now is a sports facilitator in the same NGO that gave him the chance to come up in life.

“I want to give back to the community. I have been given a lot of opportunities to perk up my life and I want other underprivileged children to get the same opportunity,” Revanna told IANS.

“Sport has made me a better person and because of it I am standing here and talking.”

Most players here participating in the tournament have come from a similar background — slum dwellers, rehabilitated drug addicts, children of commercial sex workers.

In all 10 teams participated in the tournament that ended Friday.

(Santosh Rao can be contacted at santosh.r@ians.in)

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