When she started pursuing football as a young teenager, R Shobha didn’t know where her passion for the game would take her. The 19-year-old was elated when she was among the eight girls selected to represent team India in the Homeless World Cup 2017 held in Oslo, Norway from August 29 to September 5.
Shobha, part of the Anantapur Sports Academy (ASA) Grassroots Football Program, a sport for development initiative started in 2002 for the rural youth of Anantapur, never knew football would change the course of her life at such a young age.
Shobha started playing football when she was in class 8 at her hometown Kalyandurg, Andhra Pradesh. Her first encounter with playing football competitively came at the Anantapur Football League (AFL), a grassroots football festival organized annually since 2015 by ASA to promote girls participation in the game.
She tasted success in the first edition of the competition, finishing as the top scorer in the 2015 edition of the AFL. This success motivated her to continue her passion of playing football.
Shobha’s performance in the AFL got her a ticket to represent Andhra Pradesh in the Slum Soccer Tournament held in Mumbai from February 13 – February 17, 2017. She again stepped up her performances in the tournament as well as the subsequent selection trials held in June, 2017 by Slum Soccer, which got her selected to represent team India at the Homeless World Cup 2017.
Soon after, she attended a pre-World Cup training camp with Slum Soccer in Nagpur in Maharashtra from August 7 to August 27. The camp included sessions on personality development and communication skills apart from technical football skills.
The Indian team finished seventh at the Homeless World Cup after defeating England. “It was a learning and enriching experience for me to represent Team India at the Homeless World Cup at Oslo. There was a lot to take back from each team at the World Cup and they showcased utmost respect for each other. The skills I learnt will go a long way in my life,” says Shobha.
“It has taught me leadership skills and transformed me as a person,” replied Shobha on being asked what football means to her.
She is currently pursuing her third year of graduation apart from coaching around 20 young girls at Kalyandurg. Her parents were initially reluctant to allow her to pursue football at higher levels but seeing her achieving such feats, they are now quite supportive.
Shobha is motivated to complete her studies and go for the Asian Football Federation (AFC) ‘C’ License, which will further help her in seeking better opportunities in her journey to learn and coach the game of football to other youngsters.
Also, she is working towards increasing the girls’ participation in football at Kalyandurg.
The story of R Shobha is a shining example for those who have benefitted from the sport for development initiatives like ASA, which has tried to bring a change in the lives of marginalised through sports.
More schemes need to be implemented both by the government and private stakeholders at the grassroots to improve the equal representation of girls in sports.