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The story of a football in India: Local values and environmental sustainability

Lisa Travella Murawsky, GNW, Sport, Development, Girls, Naandi, Nanhi Kali, Football
Author: Lisa Travella Murawsky
Copyrights: Naandi Foundation

The story of a football in India: Local values and environmental sustainability

A football program for girls in rural India is finding sustainable solutions to environmental issues on the field, rooted in the values and beliefs of the girls and women coaches.

The sports industry is continually working towards ensuring that they monitor their environmental impact as they build programs from the grassroots level up to the international stage. From the sports equipment used to the stadiums built, the industry is looking for ways to create and support the development of sports in an environmentally responsible and sustainable way. For international events, such as the Olympics or World Championships, there are policies and frameworks shared and expectations listed. In most cases, the environmental guidelines are imposed and implemented by top administrators. But a football program for girls in rural India is finding sustainable solutions on the field, rooted in the values and beliefs of the girls and women coaches. 

Naandi Foundation, an NGO in India, has created a “Sports for Life” program for 150,000 underprivileged girls in over 20 locations throughout the country. The program includes a weekly sports curriculum for girls aged 6 - 15 years old, a series of yearly athletics events leading up to a national competition and a developmental football program. The program is conducted and led by over 4,000 women on the ground level and led by a team of women leaders. 

Football for girls in India

The Naandi football program, which started with a few dozen girls and a handful of coaches at the end of 2019, has now grown exponentially to include over 1,000 girls and 50 women coaches throughout the country. Our football program is quickly claiming its rightful place in India as one of the largest girls’ grassroots programs for underprivileged girls in the country. The major hub for Naandi’s football program is in the state of Gujarat, India

The beauty of football is in its simplicity; a game that requires some space, players and a ball. It is this simplicity which has afforded Naandi the possibility of reaching so many girls in some of the most remote areas of India. As far as space is concerned, the girls and coaches find a small area, usually in their school grounds and usually with a dirt surface in which to play. With regards to players, there is no lack of motivation in the Naandi program. If these girls are afforded an opportunity to play sports, they will embrace it! Finally there is the ball; the key and valuable single piece of equipment. Without it, the game doesn’t happen.

The football

The program in Gujarat began with 10 footballs for approximately 120 girls and has been running for 10 months. This program has now expanded to over 250 participants with the same 10 balls. The lead coach works tirelessly, managing to share all these balls to the various teams in the village. The balls naturally started to wear and to unravel, but rather than look to purchase new balls, the lead coach sent inquiries out in the village to see who could mend the ball. Eventually, she was led to a small shack of a shoe repairman and he busied himself on mending the football. In the end, the ball may not have been as round as before, but it still served its purpose. Rather than purchase new balls, they repaired the ones they had. These are their values and their beliefs in taking care of what they have and not wasting. Not many people in the world of football have heard of someone repairing the ball!

Many people listening to this story may think that the coach was forced to repair the ball because there were no funds to buy a new one. But this would be an incorrect assumption. 

More footballs needed

The program in Gujarat has grown to over 400 girls and additional footballs are now needed. Naturally, sports instinct is to have as many footballs at the feet of players as possible; the more touches on the ball the better. But rather than purchase dozens of balls, the lead coach suggested a maximum of 3 balls per team. She explains that the girls must appreciate this equipment, value it and take care of it. It is a privilege that must be clearly understood. In these simple actions, their values take priority, even if the pace of the girls' football development may take more time with less footballs available. It is a perfect example of how the Naandi sports program is led and managed from the bottom up. It is the girls and the coaches on the field that are driving the program and shaping it to suit their needs, relevant to their cultural environment.

The beauty of this system is that the girls and women involved are environmentally sustainable in their values - their daily lives are environmentally conscious. The story of the mended football and of the distribution of a limited number of balls to new teams demonstrates how the women practitioners on the ground and on the field drive an environmentally sustainable program. We, as sports administrators and system developers, must listen to our community and their instincts, even if our sport specific goals may be influenced. We may have to be patient in our sports objectives, but the benefit is not only an environmentally conscious program but also a sustainable “sports for life” journey.

[This article has been edited by the Operating Team.]

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