BHUBANESWAR : If one has got talent and backs it with passion to succeed, poverty can’t be a deterrent. The 15-year-old daughter of a daily wage labourer from Salia Sahi has proved this by getting selected in Mata Rukmani Football Club (MRFC) to play in the ongoing Indian Women’s League (IWL) at Kalinga Stadium.
Sulekha Kanhar lost her father at a very young age and her mother Mina Tirkey working as a daily worker took a lot of hardship to bring her up. When she went out for work, Sulekha took interest in the game and played football with the boys of the slum.
“I started playing football along with the boys of Salia Sahi. My family always supported me and my dream is to represent our national team and play matches against Brazil and USA,” said Sulekha, who is studying in Class 7 at the Government High School, IRC Village here.
When Sulekha’s mother Mina married again, it was her stepfather Santanu Kanhar who encouraged her to make a career in football. In 2014, under the banner of Ardor Academy, football coach Jaydev Mohapatra took up the challenge of picking talents from economically backward areas, Salia Sahi being one of them. The football journey for Sulekha started in 2020 when she was picked by a talent scouting programme organised by Ardor Academy at her slum.
Sulekha says it was “JD sir (Jaydev Mohapatra) who always guided me, starting from training and helping me to come to this stage”. Bhubaneswar-based start-up Prima Farm Foods Pvt Ltd has been collaborating and supporting Ardor Academy with resources to help young talents like Sulekha.
“I never played in any tournaments, not even local or at any state level tournaments. This is my first tournament, that too, a national level competition. Being a junior player, is making me a bit nervous playing against the top names. But I am confident I will manage the pressure,” Sulekha said on getting a chance to play in IWL for MRFC.
“Sulekha’s commitment towards football is an example for others in our Academy. Every day, she is the first girl to reach the ground. She has lots of potential to excel in her career,” coach Jaydev said. Two months back, she had travelled to Jagdalpur to participate in a selection trial camp organised by MRFC. The defender competing with other senior players confirmed her place in the team.
Earlier, many top-level women footballers including Mamali Das, Runi Nayak, Jharana Mallick, Bishnupriya Mahanta came out from Salia Sahi. In 2016, Chandan Nayak, a 11-year-old football prodigy of Munda Sahi slum near Kalinga Stadium, was selected to train at the Bayern Munich Academy in Germany.
Also, Sunil Soren (16) and his younger brother Rajan Soren (15) of Salia Sahi had got a call from Punjab FC to join their junior team.