Football in saris and salwar kameez at Kolkata's first under-18 women's tournament
Kolkata is having its first under-18 Women's soccer tournament
Remember the passionate Iranian girls arrested at the stadium while rooting for their country’s football team in Jafar Panahi’s Offside? But how long will women continue to be brightly clad cheerleaders in the stands, asks Kolkata-based Richa Daga, co-founder of Fun Pickles, an event management company for children.
Thirty seven-year-old Daga, who is a fan of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, has sensed the pent up passion among girls and has come up with Bengal’s first Under-18 Girl’s Football Tournament, an inter-NGO and schools soccer tournament, right at the time when the world is glued to TV sets for catching the FIFA World Cup.
Daga follows the Indian women football team and she thinks the sport has a long way to go before it strikes popularity among women as players and not merely spectators.
“Any kind of sport, including football, is not for men or boys alone, and one can play any kind of sports, irrespective of their gender or social class. It sets a level playing field for all. And that is precisely the message we want to give by organising a tournament, where girls from various city and district NGOs will fight it out in the field with city school girls. Here all that matters will be the spirit and who controls the ball,” says Daga, an avid sports lover and a zealous trekker.
The matches would be held in a league format and will be held every Sunday with four teams playing league matches. Two teams from each group will qualify to play the quarter finals. Each school is required to have a team of five players and two reserves. The finals would be held on August 4, and the winning team will get further training opportunities.
The tournament that kicked off yesterday, is being organised by Daga and her partner, Neha Bhatnagar, in collaboration with German Football Academy. Children from five big city schools and 11 NGOs will be participating in this initiative that aims at providing a platform to the young and talented girls to hone their skills in football and channelise their energy productively through sports.
The tournament started off with Freedom of Expression, a friendly match, where the girls wore sports-unfriendly attires including hijabs, short dresses, saris, salwar kameez, kicking the ball with equal ease and flair. “We wanted to stress that football can be played by anyone, irrespective of race, creed culture or attire,” points out Daga. This was followed by six league matches between four schools.
The highlight of yesterday’s match was the brilliant performance of the Uthnau Mallarpur tribal girls from Birbhum against the La Martiniere for Girls School team. The team of girls, which had no coach and no proper field to practise soccer, defeated the upscale city school girls by two nil. “These girls were aggressive and fearless and would do anything to have control over the ball, prerequisites for good soccer players,” adds Daga.
The participating teams include NGOs Future Hope, Samaritan Help Mission, Tiljala SHED, Parivar, Calcutta Social Project, Help Us Help Them, SFC, Uthnau Mallarpur tribal girls team from Birbhum, Nayantara tribal girls team from Santiniketan, MSP and Piyali Learning Centre. The city schools include Modern High School, La Martiniere for Girls, New Town School, Indus Valley World School and South City International.
But Daga is not stopping at this. She plans to take this soccer mania further by organising a bigger tournament across the districts of Bengal, which will see about 50 teams participating. “There will be about 30 NGOs involved, the idea being to penetrate everywhere and spread the love for football among women across Bengal,” she says.
Meanwhile, the city moms are having a blast kicking the ball every Saturday morning at Skytop in Karnani Estates on AJC Bose Road, where Daga is organising Soccer Moms for them.