There was once a child who grew up loving sports and was encouraged to play sports from a very young age. He played and represented his school in tennis, cricket, football, badminton and many other sports. His parents encouraged his participation in sports because they weren’t able to pursue these passions themselves. This proactiveness in sport reached a decisive moment, that many people may have experienced or are about to do so.
The boy had to decide if he was going to choose sport as a career. He could’ve gone on to play at the national and perhaps an international level – maybe reached the ‘elite’ zone. He asked himself if he would be able to make a decent living through playing sports, and at that point the answer was no. Even if he did everything right, worked hard, developed his skills, and applied himself, there was no clear path ahead. The decision to pursue sports would’ve required a massive leap of faith.
Eventually, the boy chose to join his family business although sports continued to be a passion. It was a heart-wrenching choice but one that’s the reality for most kids in India who are reaching this decisive moment and are very often are choosing the seemingly easier route.
I can reflect on this in detail because I was that boy. I had a hard decision to make in my youth and I feel like I made the right one. There are many, though, who have little or no choice. They have to make the best of their sporting talent to climb up the ladder in life. It was – and to a large extent is still – an unfair scenario.
This forms a big part of the reason I am so passionate about South United Football Club today. We’re built on a system of values that are fundamental to the culture of the club, particularly in the academy. We’re trying to do what we can to create this pathway, which makes those decisive moments a little easier.
When you’re able to visualise a clear path in front of you, it’s not taking the plunge anymore, but a well-thought out decision. A few years ago, through the South United Sports Foundation I met a boy called Shahrukh. He came from a poor home in a difficult neighbourhood and played in the slums of Dharavi.
There was a constant narrative in his home, as with so many others, that he needed to study and work in an office in front of a computer to earn a living and become a successful person. Shahrukh’s focus on football kept him on course though. His desire to learn more and absorb football knowledge kept him going.
The difference is that I had a choice, and I could choose between a family business and my sporting career. Shahrukh, however, had made football the centre of his life and if he failed, the consequences may have been dire for him, as they have been for so many in our nation.
Instead, Shahrukh took a third path. He took up regular training and joined eventually learned the coaching process. He would go on to get his coaching license and become a Sports Coach in an international school, showing people that through hard work, he could also fulfil his dreams.
And while not everyone can become an elite athlete, if you have a fire within you, working in the sporting ecosystem is now a reality for many.