The saying ‘you must be the change you wish to see in the world’ has never seemed more true. As a group of eight young girls from the city train hard for the biggest opportunity of their lives, there is little nervousness in them. Instead, that shines in them is bright hope and undying love and commitment to the sport of their choice – football. They are preparing for the International Children’s Olympics, which starts on August 14. The annual event, which has become a launch pad of sorts into the elitelevel competition, will see the participation of children between the ages 12 and 15 from across the world. The tournament, which is popularly known as the International Children’s Games, is endorsed by the International Olympic Committee. The Bangalore contingent, which is the only participant from India, is handled by Bangalore Schools Sports Foundation (BSSF), a city-based organisation that helps groom children under the age of 17 in sports. This year, the event celebrates its 47th anniversary and it is the fifth consecutive year that BSSF is taking a young contingent from the city to the International Children’s Games. The organisation’s founder and former athlete, Elvis Joseph, has taken a boy’s football team every year from the 2009 tournament held in Athens, Greece. However, training a girl’s team for such a big-scale event is a first for him as well. But it feels an obvious path, especially in India, most of whose biggest sports icons are women, says Joseph. Following the invitation sent to Bangalore city by the tournament officials, different schools were invited to participate in a rigorous trial selection process, after which the Foundation chose eight gifted youngsters who will represent the country at the world-level at the age of just 15.
The Lucky Eight
The selected girls are Ashna Anil from Vidyashilp Academy, Megan Manuel, Vibha Pinto and Zohra Seth from Bangalore International School and Priyanka Bhakshi, Kiya Vishwanath, Roshni Rajan and Drithi Reddy from Inventure Academy. The girls have been training five times a week for almost two months now. Megan, who is the captain of the team, started playing the game at around 6 years of age. For her, this is a chance of a lifetime to make her country and loved ones proud. “We are a very good team and if we can bring home the trophy, it may open chances in football clubs for us.” For Zohra, who plays as midfielder, football is a sport that frees her mind, and she doesn’t want to let the sport and her coaches down at the Games. “We used to be opponents at school-level competitions. Now, we are a team and what has brought us together is the desire to be the best. Our training has been intense and now, it is all about how much effort we put in at the final stage,” says Zohra who is also part of her school’s Basketball team.
The team is being coached by a former club-level player from Nigeria, Valentine Chika Okoli. The manner in which the girls juggled studies and training has come as a revelation to Joseph. “In the last two months, they gave their best to better performance, endurance and understand team dynamics.”
The six-a-side matches will be 40 minutes long. The other teams in their pool, at the games, are Hungary, Ireland, Netherlands and hosts Canada.
Joseph says the only way to produce world-class sportspersons is to train them at grass-root levels. “You don’t become a Messi or a Ronaldo overnight. But our country lacks this attitude,” he says.
He doesn’t expect the Sports Ministry to shoulder all the responsibilities. “Sports enthusiasts and visionaries are more important. We just want visionary partners to stand by us and say, ‘Let us do this together,’” says Joseph. He hopes to bring the tournament to Bangalore in 2016. "If we succeed, our young role models may become an inspiration for children across India to participate in the event and showcase their talents," he says.
Megan Manuel(c) – Striker
Priyanka Bhakshi - Striker
Zohra Seth – Mid-fi elder
Kiya Vishwanath – Mid-fi elder
Roshni Rajan – Mid-fi elder
Vibha Pinto – Defender
Drithi Reddy – Defender
Ashna Anil – Goalkeeper