A shot at a bet­ter life their goal, they want to lift In­dia’s game too

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - TIMES CITY -

They told me I was a girl and it was bet­ter for me to learn house­hold skills. Oth­ers also went to my par­ents and asked them why they were al­low­ing me to re­main out so late and be­gan ques­tion­ing my char­ac­ter,” the girl said. “This prompted my par­ents to beat me and pro­hibit me from play­ing,”

But un­de­terred, Aarti con­tin­ued go­ing to the sta­dium and some­how al­ways man­aged to find a place in the teams play­ing there. She of­ten missed school to do some warm-up ex­er­cises at the sta­dium, wait­ing for prac­tice to start. As destiny would have it, Slum Soc­cer no­ticed her and it wasn’t long be­fore she found her­self in the Haryana team for the na­tional tour­na­ment that the NGO held in Mum­bai.

The quick-footed girl im­pressed ev­ery­one enough to be given a trail for the In­dian team that Slum Soc­cer was send­ing for the Home­less World Cup. She will be among the eight girls of sim­i­lar back­ground in the women’s team. The men’s team too con­sists of eight play­ers. The match it­self, to be played in a tem­po­rary arena cre­ated at the Zocalo, will have four play­ers per side. Slum Soc­cer has been send­ing a team to the World Cup since GLOBAL TOUCH: 2007, and while In­dia has never won the ti­tle, its rank­ings have con­stantly im­proved, ac­cord­ing to Homkant Su­ran­dase, the coach of the In­dian squad.

The men’s team is cap­tained by the af­fa­ble 25-year-old Sar­vanan, who lost his home in­the re­cent floods in Ker­ala’s Mun­nar. He used to be a news­pa­per de­liv­ery boy, but has been stay­ing in Nag­pur af­ter find­ing out about Slum Soc­cer through friends. He started play­ing the game in Class XI, and hav­ing ac­cepted a new pur­pose in life, hopes to coach slum chil­dren in foot­ball af­ter his re­turn from New Mex­ico, so they too can dream of the same op­portu- ni­ties that he got.

The women’s team is headed by Ja­gat Jy­oti from Ch­hat­tis­garh’s Raipur. The short-cropped 21-year-old is in her fi­nal year in Adarsh Gov­ern­ment Col­lege, and helps her fa­ther in the fam­ily’s small tea stall af­ter classes. Slum Soc­cer said that it would help her pur­sue her post-col­lege stud­ies if she wanted to. What­ever she plans af­ter her Mex­ico trip, Jy­oti is sure of this: she will not only con­tinue play­ing foot­ball, but also help oth­ers like her to play.

“The three things that we teach our kids are re­spect, growth and lead­er­ship. This in­stils a sense of pos­i­tiv­ity in them,” said Ab­hi­jeet Barse, CEO, Slum Soc­cer. The NGO uses foot­ball to em­power young­sters from un­der­priv­i­leged back­grounds, of­fer­ing them liveli­hood skills and health care. Not sur­pris­ing a ma­jor­ity of In­dia’s youth who have par­tic­i­pated in the Home­less World Cup have re­turned to bet­ter lives and con­tinue to as­sist slum chil­dren on how to em­power them­selves through foot­ball.

Coach Su­ran­dase, high­lighted what foot­ball means to these young peo­ple. “The kind of back­grounds these kids come from, they have ab­so­lutely no ex­pec­ta­tions,” he said. “If we can’t pro­vide them with a foot­ball, they’ll just roll up poly­thene bags and play with the make-do balls. And if you tell them they have to travel by sleeper class in trains, it is still a big thing for them. Play­ing foot­ball mo­ti­vates them to do bet­ter in life.

The In­dian con­tin­gent will leave on Sun­day for Mex­ico City. The tour­na­ment, with an ex­pected au­di­ence of two lakh peo­ple, will hold over 400 fast-paced games of 14 min­utes each, di­vided into two seven-minute halves. There’s tele­vi­sion cov­er­age, and for those six days, the prob­lem of home­less­ness will get some at­ten­tion — and a slum dweller can have the rare ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in the lime­light.


Tem­po­rary stands will be put up at Mex­ico City’s iconic Zocalo (city square) for Home­less World Cup

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