India’s longest running and largest community football tournament, the QPR South Mumbai Junior Soccer Challenger 2022, entered its 12th year this month. Held at the Western Railway grounds in Lower Parel, Mumbai, the event sees numerous passionate participants who turn up for an opportunity to follow their dreams.
Milind Deora, former MP, speaks enthusiastically about his initiative. “Football is the fastest growing sport in India," he says, adding, “The sport is very popular in Mumbai with an overwhelming number of youngsters taking to football several times more than cricket. With great exposure on TV to the English Premier League and other foreign leagues the youngsters are influenced and have taken to the sport in large numbers."
Deora himself is a football fan and is supporting Asian teams in the ongoing World Cup in Qatar. “See the upsets created by Japan & Saudi Arabia beating fancied teams," he quips.
The championship gives an opportunity to 50 talented youngsters to join a coaching clinic in the near future from which four children (two boys and two girls) get a chance to train at the QPR Youth Academy, London, for a two-week program in 2023.
Sanjiv Saran Mehra who organises the event under Saran Sports has been part of the initiative since its inception in 2009. “Initially it was very difficult to introduce the concept because reaching out to the schools (specially BMC schools) was a challenge. We had to convince them that we are here for the long haul and not putting up a show for a year or two only. Now it has been 12 long years and the schools look forward eagerly to this event each year and so do their coaches/sports teachers and parents," reveals a delighted Mehra.
Deora adds that the idea behind introducing this concept was to provide a platform to the children to showcase their skills. “Besides that, this also provides a platform and an opportunity to children from the BMC schools to step onto the pitch and get a feel of the sport. Very rarely do the children from these BMC schools get such an opportunity. This is a great community football event where children from different backgrounds are all playing together all under one roof," he explains, adding that this event shall continue to grow from strength to strength with more and more girls (currently 30%) taking to sports.
Mehra reveals that now parents are very passionately involved with the game. “They closely monitor the progress of their kids - all parents feel that one day their kid could just be playing for India."
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