Kick-starting a sporting revolution
The youth from rural areas of eastern MP are taking to football in large numbers, thanks to a project initiated by two officials which facilitates their training with the help of professional coaches
MADHYA PRADESH: Curling free-kicks, incisive headers, meticulous long-range strikes, brilliant back-volleys and crafty midfield playmaking: football players in three eastern districts of Madhya Pradesh — Shahdol, Anuppur and Umaria — are mastering these skills and more, all thanks to ‘Football Kranti’ (FK).
This came to fruition at the behest of Shahdol divisional commissioner Rajeev Sharma, who wanted to recreate the environment he witnessed firsthand while working as an Election Commission observer in the South 24 Parganas district in West Bengal during the 2021 assembly polls.
The three-tier FK model began around a year back with the establishment of football clubs in 1000 gram panchayats of the three districts, which house a large tribal population, particularly the Gond tribe and the especially vulnerable and backward Baiga tribe.
Each of the football clubs in 1000-gram panchayats were provided with the bare minimum kits and football grounds too were created in many cases through the MNREGA route.
With the 1000-odd football clubs in villages attracting 3500-4000 players, aged between 4 years and 25 years to the football fields regularly, Sharma along with ADG, Shahdol Range DC Sagar conceptualized the idea of creating the second tier of the three-tier model, which aimed at training the raw football talent in village football clubs at schools.
They were aided by Nita Ambani-led Reliance Foundation which joined the initiative under its Youth Sports program, which roped in a senior coach from Pune via the All India Football Federation (AIFF).
The coach subsequently trained former unemployed national-level players from the state living in the three districts, before they took an exam conducted by the AIFF.
After clearing the exam, they’ve turned into E-certificate holder coaches, who are technically skilled to train players at the introductory level.
“Of the newly created army of these 40-odd young coaches, around 10-15 hail from Bicharpur village of Shahdol district, which almost two decades back was a den of drugs and alcohol abuse, but the newly-kindled passion for soccer turned it into a village of soccer players,” recounted former national level player and NIS-certified coach Raees Ahmad, who is now additional director (sports) of the state’s School Education department in Shahdol division.
Currently a key part of the three-tier FK model, Raees was the man who helped Bicharpur village shed the infamous tag of being the village of drug and alcohol abusers and transform it into a soccer-crazy village around 15 years back.
“While Bicharpur produced abundant soccer talent over the last two decades, only a few could make it to government jobs. With many of the unemployed soccer players, including three women Yashoda Singh, Laxmi and Renu Kewat, now being groomed into full-fledged E-certificate holder courses through the Reliance Foundation-AIFF partnership, the FK model has also given them productive employment, as they would get Rs 10,000 monthly remuneration from the firm for training targeted 800 students at select schools starting from the coming academic session,” Ahmad said.
Dubbed as ‘football foundry’ of Shahdol district, Bicharpur village will be the nucleus of the third-tier of FK system, as it’s the place where the Sports Authority of India (SAI) is now working to start a Mini Soccer Training Academy.
The best 20 boy and 20 girl soccer players from the first two tiers – the football clubs in 1000 gram panchayats and school training system – will not only be trained at the upcoming SAI Academy in Bicharpur, but will also get a monthly stipend of Rs 1000 from the national sports body.