The buzz of children milling about the grounds, parents cheering vociferously, ecstatic ‘dab’ celebrations, smiles, laughter and an irresistible sense of camaraderie – all brought together because of the opportunity to play good, competitive football in a safe environment. That’s what the Tata Tiago School Football Championship (SFC) has made possible over the past two years for children across India.
What has really stood out for us is the inclusiveness of the tournament. SFC has given children across social strata – from under-resourced government municipal schools to the most renowned IB institutions – a common platform to put their football skills to the test. Usually played in the months of November, December, January and February, when the weather in India is more accommodating, SFC is conducted across 4 cities – Hyderabad, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai – with the Regional Champions from the 4 cities progressing to the National Finals. This year’s SFC engaged more than 50,000 school children from around the country with over 4,000 players participating through their schools.
Since inception, SFC has been organised by Just For Kicks (JFK), a school intervention program working towards teaching economically disadvantaged children invaluable life skills through the medium of football. Started in 2011 with a simple idea, “Everyone Plays”, Just For Kicks uses playgrounds to provide a third refuge for children, one beyond home and school, and in the process, unearthing some of the brightest footballing talents in the country.
Speaking on behalf of the organisers, Neha Sahu, Co-Founder of Just For Kicks, said:
“SFC was conceptualised with the intention of creating a high-quality league that caters to any child that plays football. Today, in its second year, after going from 2500 to 4000 participants, we can confidently say that this is a platform that has the potential to create careers in the sport and build a strong, yet healthy, competitive culture amongst all schools”.
Here are the list of achievers at SFC 2017:
SFC 2017 was supported primarily by Tata Tiago, who came in as Title Sponsors, along with other corporates and funders including Uber, Enerzal, BookASmile, Veling and The Marwah Group. ISL club, Mumbai City FC, who are the Technical Partners for SFC, sent scouts to identify promising young talents with the aid of SportsQ, who set up a technical skills assessment booth during the tournament.
Unlike most other tournaments, SFC not only provides competitive exposure to young footballers, but also provides developmental pathways for elite talents to further their skills. Last year, Just For Kicks, in partnership with Crystal Palace FC, organised a special training development camp for handpicked talents from SFC 2016 in London at the Premier League club, which turned out to be the opportunity of a lifetime for them.
In a country mostly starved of quality competitive grassroots football tournaments, SFC is a platform that needs to be developed and expanded in the near future.