• arjun vikraman

More than a sport: Football in Vada Chennai

Updated: Nov 21, 2020

Vishnu Menon

6th November 2020

Chennai: The slums across the country occupy a vast proportion of the cities, yet they stay hidden in plain sight- overlooked and ignored by the privileged public. These communities strive for a better way of life. Still, the prevalence and sustenance of such slum communities over the years shed light on the blatant reality that has disregarded these communities' ailments. According to reports by The Hindu- across the slums of north Chennai, football has emerged as a beacon of hope in empowering the youth and endorsing communal harmony amongst the people. The communal disparities induced primarily- due to poverty have persistently posed a threat for the youth here. Kids are forced to take up odd jobs to sustain their families. The fates of the unmonitored youth also stand prey to the vile underpinnings of the underworld. Children often get lured into drug addictions and resort to petty crimes to sustain it. But the momentum of popularity gained by football here has led many well-minded people to utilise it to garner new opportunities for the youth. The results of this have led to the national and international representation of players from Vada Chennai.

A practice session at Pallakumanagar (Source- Raveena Joseph)

H Noor Basha, a physical education teacher employed with a private school in Adyar, spends most of his time away from work coaching children in Vyasarpadi. He looks to train these kids with a new possession-based (a general tactic used in football) way of playing professional football. He cited to The Hindu that he is convinced that this will ensure a more poised playing style, which will enable his prodigies to reach great heights in the international arena.

Basha realises the potential of the sport and is keen to spot at-risk children with sporting talent. According to The Hindu, he helps these children get selected to play in the local tournaments conducted by slum soccer (an NGO working to improve the livelihoods of street dwelling children through football), which partners with the Homeless World Cup Foundation. If selected to the global tournament, recognition and a shot at a better future await these youngsters.

One of Basha’s prodigy’s, R Arvind (22), got the opportunity to represent Chennai at the homeless world cup held in Cardiff, UK, which granted him a full scholarship to study an MBA programme in a college in Vyasarpadi.

Basha has managed to coach over 300 kids and young adults over the eight years he has been a coach. But the story of football in Vada Chennai looks beyond just a few names and faces.

Vyasarpadi, Kasimedu, Royapuram, Washermenpet, Perambur are the localities that make up the slums of North Chennai. And each community here has distinct characteristics and approaches to life. Hence the invocation of the sport in each of these communities has been different. But ultimately, the uncouth image of these areas has now slowly been getting overshadowed by the light of football and other sports. Many have emerged from these areas to represent the country in the international arena.

In Vyasarpadi, the boys are tough and footloose. Their parents are mostly labourers and domestic workers. Alcoholism is very rampant in these areas, and these boys are prone to aggression and frustration, which often lands them at the feet of exploitation, which will have them taking up violence for money. Young men become goons, and men with power prosper. This revelation was much pondered upon by two people: Thangaraj and Umapathy, who have been engaged in keeping boys away from violence since the ’90s. They started SCSTEDS (The Slum Children’s Sports Talent Education Development Society) in 1997, as reported by The First Post. They hoped to rectify the issues that plagued the area — high incidences of suicide, school dropouts, child marriages, child labour, crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, and lack of awareness about opportunities.

Football paves the way for social recognition and respect in these communities. And in pursuit of achieving this, parents and adults are being persuaded to make better life choices so as not to interfere with the dreams of their children.

A muddy playground in Mylapore and a part of the cremation ground in Basin bridge forms the community playgrounds where hundreds of young people practice football. The gory past of these regions has slowly dissolved to garner disciplined athletes. Coaches strive to imbibe healthy competitiveness and sportsmanship among their respective teams and players. Local tournaments are conducted regularly to provide the most opportunities for the players.

What football has managed to do in these regions is unprecedented. It has helped to forge a strong network of healthy connections between neighbouring communities by reducing communal clashes. The sport has also been taken up in many communities to resolve civic issues, like establishing public schools, public drinking water sources, etc. The global sport has managed to transcend systemic differences, which only shows how a large scale's collective effort can actually make a difference.

(Sources- The Hindu, The Firstpost, The Bridge)

Edited by- Nivedita Dutta

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