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Inbox war stalls Yuwa dreams
- Mentor conditions hold up stadium for soccer senoritas

Ranchi, Feb. 15: Football fans, feel free to choose sides between a well-meaning Union minister and a well-meaning American soccer coach for tribal girls.

The stadium for Ranchi’s Ormanjhi soccer schoolgirls, who made a stunning debut in Spain last July, may not materialise soon despite initial hype and some amount of groundwork by Ranchi district at a plot in village Dahu of the block.

Union minister of rural development Jairam Ramesh, who took great interest in the soccer senoritas, and NGO Yuwa founder, the Minnesota-born Franz Gastler, who trained them, are now at loggerheads.

In January, Ramesh was annoyed to know Gastler set an “unacceptable” condition before accepting the land offer.

The American didn’t want the tribals to play for Jharkhand and wanted this condition to be clearly included in an MoU before he formally accepted the stadium offer.

Gastler, defending his decision, cited “child security” as the main issue. In his emails to the Union minister, he argued mechanisms to protect young girls while commuting were inadequate. However, Ramesh cautioned Gastler not to be so “paternalistic” and “superior” and added it was “unacceptable” if the girls did not play for their own state.

It is clear from the email exchanges that The Telegraph has accessed (see box) that both sides are not budging from their stand. The formality of signing the MoU between state sports department and Yuwa founder-executive director Gastler stands stalled.

“I have my own reservations. It (the MoU) isn’t the one we discussed during meetings with state and centre officials. We know how difficult it had been for all of us in Yuwa to fight odds to pursue sports for change but I am sceptical about the government’s ways of functioning,” Gastler told The Telegraph over phone.

It is not a fairytale twist in what started out as one.

Last July, 18 tribal girls of Ormanjhi, under My Yuwa India, clinched soccer bronze at the U-14 Gasteiz Cup in Spain. In another tourney the same month, they finished 10th among 36 teams at Donosti Cup, San Sebastian, also in Spain.

Trained by NGO Yuwa India and run by Gastler, who now lives and works in Ormanjhi, the girls hadn’t even ventured out of their block areas before. Not surprisingly, their talent in soccer and their confident global debut earned them and Yuwa widespread attention from the national media.

Prodded by Union minister Ramesh, chief minister Hemant Soren in August 2013 gave Rs 21,000 to each footballer and promised a five-acre plot for the stadium in Dahu, Barwe panchayat in Ormanjhi block. The stadium was to come up within six months.

On September 12, Ramesh gifted the Yuwa girls a mini-bus to solve their commuting woes and sanctioned funds to develop the plot. On the same day, the Union minister handed Barwe mukhiya Sunita Devi a copy of the land document.

Ranchi deputy commissioner Vinay Kumar Choubey said his job was over. “We did our job by identifying the plot, getting the grounds levelled via MGNREGS funds and so on. I sent the file (of the stadium project) to sports department. I don’t know its exact status now,” he said.

The status is clearly “in limbo”, Mr Choubey.

‘Take It Or Leave It’

Excerpts of emails between Union minister of rural development Jairam Ramesh and Yuwa founder Franz Gastler

January 9

Ramesh: “Franz: apparently you have put a condition in the MoU that the girls cannot play for Jharkhand or something to that effect. This is completely unacceptable if that condition is indeed the case. I reviewed your matter with the state government officials on the 4th (of January) in Ranchi.

January 10

Gastler: “There is no ideological issue at all regarding playing for an association team, state team, or a club team. The issue is child safety, and our responsibility to ensure that, which I know is an interest we share. Till this point, neither state nor national teams have acceptable and demonstrable child safety policies or norms in place. Once that changes, we will certainly be thrilled to once again allow girls in Yuwa to play on those teams.
Two girls from Yuwa have been physically and verbally abused by the national coach of the AIFF junior girls national team. Two other girls in Yuwa, age 15, were brought to a train station by a SAI coach and then left there. Another Jharkhand SAI coach stole Rs 15k
(Rs 15,000) from his team’s tournament fund. All these cases are documented,
we’ve registered complaints. And in one case, under former Jharkhand Sports Director Anurag Gupta, action was taken. In all other cases, no action was taken. The MoU draft mentions several performance indicators for athletic success. We fully agree there should be indicators. However who makes it to the state teams and who doesn’t has little to do with merit, and that's simply not a real indicator. I was asked to take part in a state selection panel where the chief selector came in with a list of seven players from the deputy chief minister and said those would be chosen first. Again, I believe our shared interests are child safety and youth development, so I am sure we can find common ground on this MoU where we can achieve measurable social development with quality indicators.”

January 11

Ramesh: “Don’t be so paternalistic and morally superior. We are equally concerned about the safety and security of girls. The condition that they not participate for the state is simply unacceptable. Take it or leave it.”


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