Till very recently, one could’ve sworn that cricket was the only enduring sport in India, which people were passionate about. It’s astonishing to see how far we’ve come since the ‘Chak De India’ days, when hockey was first showcased in mainstream Indian cinema. People are now actively flocking to stadiums, to check out various kinds of sports and tournaments.
Bhubaneswar, in particular has acquired a reputation of a growing sports hub. Not just cricket or hockey, a sport which is slowly gaining prominence is football. The city, in fact, is all set to host an Indian Super League (ISL) match between Jamshedpur FC and Bengaluru FC on February 25th. With India hosting the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, and domestic football leagues gaining popularity, it’s no surprise to see that football is also being propagated on a regional level.
In a bid to give underprivileged kids from the slums of Bhubaneswar an opportunity to hone their skills in football, NGO, Humara Bachpan and Ardor Football Academy organised a tournament from the 14th-17th of February. Being an Under-16 event, most of the participants were small kids and pre-teens. More than 80 teams had registered, both boys and girls. This was particularly heartening to see, in context of today’s gender ratio. All expenses were borne by the NGO and the academy. “Our motive for this event is to promote football, mainly on a grassroot level, so we will be selecting 50 champions from those who are participating and they would be given an opportunity to train with our academy. They will be provided with proper football education, equipment and other necessary support,” said Jayadev Mahapatra, AFA’s founder.
“Even in metro cities, talented kids like these don’t get opportunities to play and perform. Rather than getting trapped in the clutches of crime which is rampant in slums, this is a good way to channelise their energy”, he added. And, the energy was visibly evident all around the ground! Rakesh Hansda, from Unit-2 Boys High School, exclaimed, “I feel extremely happy to play on such a platform and I hope they do this every year!”
On being asked about the refreshing gender equality being witnessed during the tournament, Mahapatra said, “In lower economic areas, girls are either set to work in the domestic line or married off as soon as possible. This is a way through which we’ve tried to encourage excellence in sports for girls.”
No wonder, the palpable excitement in the air reflected in her eyes as well when Urmila, from Govt. Girls High School, Unit 8 told MCL how they had won three matches and were geared up for more. “This has been an amazing experience for me because we’ve come this far without even having a coach!”
It was definitely a treat to see such talents being recognised, and who knows, maybe the next Baichung Bhutia will be one of them!