CHENNAI: Ronaldo! shout young boys and girls, as they run onto the field in their jerseys for the warm-up session. Santhome Superstars, Besantnagar Bravehearts and Udumalpet Warriors — as the soccer teams are named — include no film actors or industrialists, but children from fishing communities, slums and shelters for the homeless.
The teams will compete in the Gamesa Soccer League — a rare collaboration between Gamesa, a company involved in generation of wind energy, and Slum Soccer, a Nagpur-based NGO that aims at changing the lives of underprivileged kids through the sport.
With the launch of the league on Friday at the Madras School of Social Work, seven teams have been adopted by Gamesa across wind farm sites in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. They will be trained professionally to compete in the mega final to be held in Chennai in mid-2015. “When we were in school, the sports period was the one that was expendable, and replaced by special classes.
That is the importance we give to sports in our country. This is slowly changing,” said Akshay Madhavan, head of operations, Slum Soccer, Chennai. At the event to announce the collaboration, a video film by Slum Soccer showed a mother testifying how she saw her son’s aggressive behaviour reduce after he took to playing football. “Chennai has 945 slums. There is a lot of anger among the underprivileged, which, if channelised into sports, could be a big positive,” said R Nataraj, former Director General of Police, Tamil Nadu, who was the chief guest at the launch. Vijay Barse, founder, Slum Soccer, agreed that sports for development was crucial.
Another problem that was discussed at the launch was gender equality. Two girls, Sukanya and Sandhya, who are players in the league, said, “We don’t mind playing football with boys!”
Vikram Vybav, head, Football Development, Slum Soccer, said, “We even try to teach them about gender inequality issues indirectly. We give a smaller goal post for boys and a larger one for girls, so as to give them a taste of the real world.” Vikram added that many kids were first timers, and were easier to deal with when compared to the ones who were used to rough and competitive game.
With the Indian Slum Soccer team finishing in the 33rd place out of 66 teams in the Homeless World Cup 2014 at Santiago, hope is on the way for these kids. This pilot project will be scaled to other States in future.
While Slum Soccer will govern and implement this project, the Madras School of Social Work, will function as the knowledge partner which will be involved throughout the tournament for research documentation and impact assessment.