Paving the way for sport-loving youth all over the city, the Delhi Youth League was set up in 2012 with the aim of giving children between the ages of 6 and 19 a chance to play competitive football. Apart from age, there are no restrictions on who can play in the league, and children from disadvantaged backgrounds play side-by-side with those from international football academies as well as public and private schools across the city.
The League has managed to get over 300 children from various cultural, religious and economic backgrounds together, and given them a chance to play football together, and learn from each other.
Dutch football enthusiast, Paul Schuttenbelt, was the brain behind the entire league. He wanted to give youth in the area a chance to have fun. He realised that the sport was growing popular in the country, but the infrastructure was not developed enough for children to really explore their full potential. After a voluntary programme in Vietnam was a major success, he decided to set up the first competitive youth league in Delhi. Believing that the only way to really understand every aspect of a sport is to play it, the League’s tagline is – The best teacher is the game itself.
“Training is alright, but games teach you fighting spirit, intelligence, and help you develop your stamina. A league and a tournament are very different. Tournaments are short and last for maybe 10 days. A league has long term focus – runs for a minimum of 6 months, and the only way competitiveness develops is through a league. The teams that have the best organisation and commitment win in the end.” – Paul Schuttenbelt, Chairman and Founder, Delhi Youth League
Although the first season of the League was only a half season, the response was phenomenal. A fair number of teams participated, with 32% of them being from weaker economic sections. These were the NGO teams. As part of their endeavour to help people through the medium of football, the referees for the league matches are called from the Kutumb Foundation, giving other disadvantaged youth a chance to learn a new skill and earn a little money.
League teams are also given a chance to participate in tournaments in Dubai and Bangkok, where their performance has improved significantly every year. Schuttenbelt hopes to start a Youth Football India fund to provide talented children with food and kits if they are unable to afford it themselves. By giving underprivileged children a chance to play a sport, the Delhi Youth League is channelling otherwise wasted energy through sport while enabling children to understand the value of teamwork. The League has the support of international football coaches and teams, giving these children the guidance they need to reach their full potential. With their fourth season currently underway, the success of the League means we just might see the next Lionel Messi hailing from East Delhi!
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