Last July, it was about making the world sit up with a bronze in Gasteiz Cup and a quarterfinal entry in Donosti Cup in Spain. This July, it is the Schwan’s USA Cup.
Around 18 tribal girl footballers, hailing from impoverished hamlets in Ormanjhi block on the capital outskirts, under the aegis of Yuwa India, will be off to the US in July, earlier apprehensions of their trip getting cancelled due to funds crunch finally being laid to rest.
“We have managed sponsors,” said Franz Gastler, the US national who happens to be the founder-mentor of Yuwa. “Star Sports paid for plane tickets. We are going on July 8 via Calcutta for the tournament at Blaine in Minnesota.”
Gastler, who hit upon the innovative idea of empowering tribal youths, especially girls, through football, said he was happy Yuwa had become a brand.
To create a buzz around the US aspirations of these rural tribal girls, Star Sports last month launched a fund-raising campaign on national television with the punch line “I love football, but don’t want to go to Brazil.” A well-made spot, it’s also aired on YouTube.
Over 400 individuals pitched in with donations, Gastler said. And brands such as TataSky, Lenovo, Quantum and others have also done their bit.
In Ormanjhi villages such as Rukka and Hutup, where girls come from, football wasn’t on anyone’s agenda in a million years. Girls as young as nine or 10 considered themselves lucky if they found time from cooking, rearing goats and collecting firewood to go to school.
Now, footballers Rinky Kumari and Kusum Kumari, barely 13, are talking about World Cup, attack and defence tactics, feeling at home in their sneakers, flight stopovers and aisle and window seats on the plane.
The Spain outing, which heralded Yuwa’s international foray, brought about the change. Now, the challenge before Gastler is to keep the momentum going.
“We are thrilled to be able to get a private channel on board whose national campaign has made our US trip possible, and also individuals and brands who have contributed to our cause. It not only promotes sports, but gives gifted rural girls a chance to live their dream,” Gastler said.
So, are the girls excited? “They are very, very excited and are practising very, very hard,” Gastler said. “Last year’s trip gave a lot of exposure to the kids, which is reflected in their game now. The team is highly motivated to do well,” said the mentor-cum-football coach.
Gastler said they had a multidisciplinary approach to squad selection.
“We ask players to rate everyone except themselves on parameters such as sporting talent, honesty, leadership and studies, among others. Then, we collate everyone’s opinion and pick top-rated names. We do this to encourage girls to understand, respect and bond better with each other,” he said.
Not all the girls will grow up into sportspersons, but the change in their confidence is perceptible.
“Society teaches girls to fit in, but Yuwa teaches girls to stand out,” Gastler said. “Many of the girls, who played in Spain last year, are coaching younger girls today. They are community role models.”