Beating all odds, a bunch of 18 under-14 tribal girls from Ranchi district of Jharkhand went to Spain for two football tournaments – the Donosti Cup and the Gasteiz Cup. They haven’t ever heard of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas or Fernando Torres but these girls with dreams in their eyes have made their country proud.
The man behind the team is Franz Gastler, an American who came to India more than five years ago, who is running an NGO, YUWA, in Jharkhand for the last four years. Team Yuwa, as the team was known, was the only representation from India in the Donosti Cup that was participated by 30 countries. The team was sponsored by Gamesa Wind Turbines Pvt. Ltd.
Rinki Kumari, 13, was the captain of the team. She started playing football when she was just eight, an age when most girls in the village would play hopscotch. The trip to the land of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid didn’t come easy for the girls. They had to dribble past taunts, criticism and even abuse.
Most of the girls are from very poor families and they don’t have televisions at home. So, the only time they have seen Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo in action is when “Sir” Gastler showed them match clippings.
As a billion plus India slept, a few days ago in this month, a handful of tribal girls proudly held aloft a football trophy they won in far-flung Spain. But no one cared in India. Oindrilla Roy said that All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel was not aware of the girls’ superlative achievement, nor was the country’s new sports minister Jitendra Singh.
The Yuwa team was called the Supergoats by the organizers the moment they saw the girls playing barefoot in practice matches on arrival in Spain. Why? The girls had limited football gear and could not take the risk of tampering it before the tournament. They were overawed by international teams in the first tournament, the Donosti Cup in San Sebastian, which is Spain’s biggest football tournament with over 400 teams participating from across the globe. The girls could not cross the group phase.
But they came to their own in the second tournament at Gasteiz Cup, an International Youth Soccer tournament. The Yuwa girls were placed 3rd out of ten teams with two wins, two losses and a draw.
As soon as the announcement was made for the prize distribution ceremony, the girls rushed into their dressing room and returned, some barefoot, wearing red-bordered white saris, their traditional festive dress. Many had their plastic flowers in their hairs. And when they huddled together after the mandatory photo session, some wept inconsolably because they had almost given up their hopes to participate in this tournament.
For the girls, it was indeed a giant leap into world soccer from their impoverished village in Ormanjhi block near the Ranchi city. Now, AIFF and SAI must see that they get proper training and encouragement to bring laurels for the country, in future. Yes indeed, they made us proud.