A few months back 17-year-old Biswajit Nandi asked his now “aging” mother to stop working as a sex worker in Sonagachi and take up small odd jobs. He also took up a part time job of manually filling up tanks with buckets of water. “I don’t want to go to the world cup without having to worry about my mother back home, else it’ll affect my game,” Nandi told dna during a telephonic interview.
The journey thus far
Children of other sex workers playing street soccer barefoot at Sonagachi never interested Nandi, he was “scared” of injuring himself. At the age of eight when he came to stay at the Durbar Mahila Samanway Samity’s Baruipur (Kolkata) home for children, he would just sit and watch other boys at the hostel.
“Some of the boys were younger than me, I was embarrassed. So one day I decided to give it a shot,” says Nandi. He got injured the very first day but tried again the next day.
“It was too much fun.” After that Nandi and his friend and football partner Surojit Bhattacharya, who he met at the children’s home, never stopped.
Life changed for the duo when they played in a match between children of sex workers vs others on August 14, 2006. The team the duo played for lost the match but coach Biswajit Majumdar, who was the match referee saw solid potential in the two boys.
“I saw them play and realised that the they were gifted and just needed some direction, support and a platform. I started training them,” says Majumdar. For almost seven years the boys turned up in in torn shoes and faded jerseys to train under coach Majumdar along with other boys, who often took a dig at their families and their financial conditions. Coach, however, told them not to lose their focus and the boys never missed a single training session.
The turning point
In December, 2012 Majumdar took the Durbar Mahila Samanway Samity team for the annual Slum Soccer Tournament that was held at the BR Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi. The team lost in the Semi-finals and stood third (out of 12 teams) but the 28 goals that the duo scored in the tournament didn’t go unnoticed.
“May 15 my sir (Majumdar) called me and asked me if I’d go to Poland. I was shocked,” says Nandi.
I’ve never been abroad, of course I’ll go, said an overexcited Nandi.
“I don’t have a passport. But why would you send me to Poland?” he said as an afterthought. Coach asked Nandi to calm down and called the duo to meet him the next day.
“He handed us a letter that said that we were selected for the team that will represent India in Homeless World Cup in Poland,” says Bhattacharya.
Hurdles en route Poznan
The boys are training overtime these days, preparing for the training camp to be held in Nagpur by Slum Soccer, the only body from India recognised by the Homeless World Cup, but the journey to Poland isn't going to be that simple.
After much trouble and cumbersome paperwork the boys have just about managed to get their passports made but they're not sure if they'll be of any use.
“The boys would need Rs 70000 each for travel to and back from Poland and that money they have to arrange before end of July,” says Majumdar.
Nandi and Bhattacharya both are hoping that the NGOs, institutions, individuals and local leaders they have written to will sponsor their dream. However, so far, nobody they have approached have pledged any money to support the duo.
Why is funding a problem
Slum Soccer CEO Abhijeet Barse says that the Homeless World Cup team faces a lack of government support at the national level because the sport is still at a developing stage in India and the government wants to concentrate on the regular state and national teams.
“At the local level, we have applied for funding but the everyone expects some sort of bribe from the money that will be released as funds and falling for that that doesn't really make sense,” Barse says.
“Also, at the local level people think that we are diluting mainstream football and they believe that we are getting into fotball development as a business. They don't get that we are not looking to get into football development, instead we are trying to develop socially excluded (youth) through football,” he adds.
The lack of recognition and financial support for the Homeless World Cup tournament is why Barse has to rely individual and private institutions for donations. At times he has also had to pick loans to take the teams to previous editions of the tournament.
”The team plays well, in fact their ranking has gone up from 48 when they started out to 30, which is better than the National Team and we will try and make sure the this year's team doesn't miss out on the opportunity to play in Poland,” says Barse.
Nandi, meanwhile, also has his eyes on the spot in his favourite Indian team Mohun Bagan.
“I gave my trials for the team (Mohun Bagan) this year and have made it to the shortlist of 20 players. I hope the Homeless World Cup experience will help me make it to my dream team,” says Nandi.
Facts about The Homeless World Cup:
- The organization was founded in 2001.
- The first annual football tournament for homeless people took place in 2003 in Graz, Austria.
- The organization reports that over 70% of players engaged in the event changed their lives by beating addictions, moving into jobs, homes, training, education and repairing relationships. Some participants have also become social entrepreneurs, coaches and players in National teams and Clubs.
- To date, the Homeless World Cup has touched the lives of over 200,000 homeless people.
- Each year, a country can send an entirely new team of 8 people. The teams compete with four players on each side – a goal keeper, a striker and two defenders.
- 64 countries will participate in this year's tournament to be held in Poland.
Reach out: Readers who want to help these boys reach Poland for the World Cup can contact the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, 44 Boloram Dey Street, Kolkata 700006. Phone: 033-2543 7451/ 7560