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Rugby back on Maidan greens in Kolkata after two-year Covid-induced gap

Tim Grandage tournament to resume on Saturday

Debraj Mitra | Published 23.07.22, 07:05 AM
The winners of an earlier edition of the tournament  with Tim Grandage, the founder of Future Hope.

The winners of an earlier edition of the tournament with Tim Grandage, the founder of Future Hope.

A 22-year-old man, once an orphan on the streets of Kolkata, is now a formidable fly-half in rugby.

A 23-year woman from Siliguri, from a very poor family, found a new meaning of life because of the sport, representing India at international tournaments. On Saturday, a bunch of such young men and women will be resuming their favourite sport on the Maidan.

A rugby tournament that pits some of the city’s premiere clubs and police teams against squads, comprising players from vulnerable backgrounds, will be held on the Maidan on Saturday after a two-year gap forced by the Covid.

The Tim Grandage Rugby 7s will feature six teams in the women’s league and eight in the men’s league, said organisers. The championship was stalled in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.

Teams like Future Hope, Jungle Crows and Saraswatipur Leopards (from Siliguri), made up of players from underprivileged backgrounds, will compete against the likes of Calcutta Cricket and Football Club and Kolkata Police.

“Rugby teaches discipline, teamwork and the never-say-die spirit, very important lessons for these youngsters,” said Sanjay Patra, head of rugby at Future Hope and a key organiser.

Patra, who has represented India in rugby, has been a coach for over a decade. He is the present coach of the Bengal rugby team. “The past two years have been very difficult for them. They are very excited about Saturday’s tournament,” said Patra, 42.

Sunny Kayet, 22, will be representing Future Hope on Saturday. He was brought to the school from the streets 18 years ago. He has completed schooling and is now studying sports management. A fly-half in rugby, he is at his best when side-stepping opponents on the field.

“Rugby is my life. I can’t wait to get back,” said Kayet.

The tournament is named after Tim Grandage, the founder of Future Hope, a school for street children. Grandage was the pioneer in taking the game beyond the premier clubs and institutions — to young people from the streets and marginalised sections of the society.

The sport is extremely popular among the children, not only of Future Hope but other similar organisations that work with vulnerable children.

Arpan Chhetri, a key member of the Bengal rugby team, will play for Jungle Crows team on Saturday. “I missed playing in the lush greens of the Maidan,” said Chhetri.

The tournament on Saturday will be the season opener. The rugby season in Kolkata is usually between July and October.

Each game will last 15 minutes — with two halves of seven minutes each with a one-minute break. Each team will have seven players.

“In rugby, you play extremely hard on the pitch. But the rivals become great friends off the pitch. When you are from a difficult background, rugby gives you self belief and hope,” said Sujata Sen, the CEO of Future Hope.

Chanda Oraon, another player who has represented India in international tournaments, will be mentoring the Saraswatipur Leopards, a women’s team from Siliguri.

Oraon, 22, used to play football but did not have “enough scope or infrastructure” in the local level. She was spotted by a rugby talent scout and there was no turning back.

I am nursing an injury. Otherwise, I would have played myself,” said Oraon.

Last updated on 23.07.22, 07:05 AM
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