Football for all genders

Rakhee Roy Talukdar | Updated on December 06, 2019 Published on December 06, 2019

An inclusive world: Players at the football match which had nine transperson partcipants   -  RAKHEE ROY TALUKDAR

A first-of-its-kind match in Jaipur drives home the point that football has little to do with gender

A sunny morning stands for hope. And when the beautiful game of football is a part of the day, the future seems full of possibilities and connotes that change is in the air.

That is how a modest idea conceived by two teenaged boys of Jaipur led to the somewhat conservative city hosting the first-ever all-gender inclusive football match — called Kicking Gender Boundaries. In the teams were nine transgender youngsters who played with full gusto on the grounds of the Jayshree Periwal International School (JPIS) on November 30.

The match was the brainwave of Kush (19) and Arjun Pandey (16), developers of an app that zeroes in on talented footballers. The brothers also wanted to draw the transgender community into the sports arena. “Sport brings people together, breaks down barriers and builds the confidence of participants,” says Arjun, a Std XI student of the school.

The right moves: Arjun Pandey, one of the organisers   -  RAKHEE ROY TALUKDAR


And soccer, he holds, is not about gender. “It is a game for all, whether poor, rich or transgender. Football is all about talent, and has the power to change any pre-conceived notions about the third gender that they cannot become able sportspeople,” he adds.

The boys had heard about the problems of transgender people, and were aware that the Supreme Court had in 2018 repealed the 157-year-old Article 377, a move that gave LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer) community the same rights as other citizens.

Arjun adds: “Hearing about the kind of social discrimination they face, we decided we should try to integrate the younger generation into something they like doing, say sports, but cannot participate in simply because of their sexual orientation. And we thought: Why not the most beautiful game of football to start with?”

The two proposed the idea to the Keshav Suri Foundation, a Delhi-based body that seeks to build a discrimination-free platform. “And it readily agreed to help us realise our dream,” Arjun adds.

Their app ScoutMe is a talent scouting platform. “It can make scouting for a player simple, easy and transparent. It has an exhaustive system of rating players, making it easier for football clubs to look for good players and raw talent from every corner of the country and train them accordingly,” Arjun says. They also collaborated with Ya-All, a Manipur-based NGO which helped them find young transgender footballers.

The two thought of building an app after losing a match recently in Rajasthan’s Dausa district to a rural team. “The boys thought if the rural boys could outdo them in a match, for which the JPIS boys had trained so well, they could easily find other talented players in rural areas,” says their father Sanjeev Pandey. “So the app was launched to search for players at the grassroots level. And when they played another match in Jaipur with three transgender footballers, they were mocked and teased by the crowd. That is when they decided to include the transgender community in the game.”

The match, with footballers in the 11-17 age group playing a robust game, was a resounding success, cheered on by a crowd of students, parents, sports lovers and others who had gathered there. The teams had no names, but the white T-shirters defeated the team of yellow tees 2-1. Irom Monica, a transgender footballer from Manipur, was declared the player of the match.

Among the spectators was Mumbai-based transgender activist and Bharatanatyam dancer Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, who runs the NGO Astitva, a platform that seeks to give a hand to youngsters from the community.

Leading from the front: Activist and dancer Laxmi Narayan Tripathi at the event   -  RAKHEE ROY TALUKDAR


“Even today, the community is looked upon as strange and people find it difficult to mix with the transgender community. Years of apathy and discrimination have left the community scarred,” she says. “Endeavours like this football match, which is trying to break down barriers and kick away such roadblocks, will go a long way in empowering individuals from the third gender and integrate them into the mainstream.”

Rajasthan Football Association (RFA) president Manvendra Singh, also present at the match, stresses that as “responsible football administrators”, the RFA encourages everyone to take part in the game. “Diversity is the source of all colours that makes life more beautiful. This is the essence of football.”

The foundation now plans to make the match an annual event and hopes that such games will be held in more schools across India.

“Games can break down barriers of language, race, creed and colour,” says hotelier and gay activist Keshav Suri, the man behind the foundation. “Healthy sports competition evaluates each one by putting them through the same rigours and tears down the widening walls that exist between us in much the same way as music, literature and art. And everybody enjoy watching sports, regardless of their orientation. Nothing can provide more equality than a beautiful game of soccer.”

For the school students present at the match, the game was eye-opening. “I don’t know what a transgender is. I love football and just want to put the ball in the net. I enjoy watching the game,” says aspiring footballer Reyaansh Karan Mehta, a Std VI student.

But then, as American author Libba Bray puts it, that’s how change happens. “One gesture. One person. One moment at a time.” And one game.

Rakhee Roy Talukdar is an independent journalist based in Jaipur


Published on December 06, 2019

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