9/18/2018 8:51:02 PM (GMT+3)

Oscar formula: Using football to get kids off the streets

Oscar formula: Using football to get kids off the streets

“Even if you do not have a single penny in your pocket, it’s not a problem in following your dreams and pursuing your passions.”

With this guiding principle as his motto, Ashok Rathod set about his journey as a 17-year-old to change the lives of his fellow slum dwellers in Mumbai.

Rathod, who started with no budget 12 years ago, is now presiding over an organisation that had an annual budget of INR 2.6 crore (as of 2017) and in the current financial year, will be spending INR 3.5 crore.

The 29-year-old OSCAR India Foundation founder and director is using football as a tool to inspire children and help them understand different life skills in five cities in India.

OSCAR uses sport to prevent school drop-outs and encourage children from economically backward sectors to complete their education, discover meaningful vocations for themselves and quit
unhealthy habits.

What started as a one-man unit with 18 students and two volunteers in Mumbai has more than 3900 children on its rolls.

Rathod’s work has been recognised and honored at various youth platforms—nationally and internationally—and he won the Real Hero Award from CNN IBN-Reliance in 2009. In 2010, Indonesia’s Ashoka Foundation invited him to be a trainer and guest speaker for the Asia Youth Social Entrepreneur Summit.

The work of OSCAR India Foundation has been supported by JM Baxi Group, FIFA Foundation (the governing body’s social services arm), Street Football World (a non-governmental organization), Common Goals (a charity-based social entrepreneurship) and Generation Amazing (the social services division of Qatar’s 2022 World Cup campaign).

Rathod spoke to khelupdates.com about a wide range of topics. Edited excerpts from an email interview:

KU: How did you get interested in football and the events leading to the formation of OSCAR India Foundation?

I was brought up in a Mumbai slum (in Cuffe Parade, with his father working as a fisherman and gardener and his mother in the fish market). I saw the challenges that children and youth faced in my community. I felt that the lack of education and opportunities threw them in an endless cycle of
poverty. Some took to drugs and alcohol. I’m a firm believer in education and the opportunities it can present in changing the future (Rathod is a commerce graduate). Football was simply a tool to inspire children and help them understand different life skills through the sport.

KU: What are the aims and objectives of the organization?

We started in 2006 to prevent children from dropping out of school; to discover, develop, and nurture young talent, and to educate young people into becoming responsible citizens. We have a team of 30, many of who come from the community (slums) itself. The staff includes coaches, programme managers, and support staff required to attend various OSCAR programmes.

KU: How difficult was it to run this organization?

The biggest challenge came when the organisation was growing. We did not have the money for expansion. Another challenge was that people (living in the slums) did not understand the use of football for development—that took effort and convincing.

KU: What other life skills are boys and girls taught at OSCAR?

We have a toy centre in the community where parents can leave their children for a few hours. It has a lot for children to engage with—books, toys, and a space where they can interact with other children. We also have the computer programmes for children seven and above.

KU: How do you recruit the children?

In Mumbai, we train 1800 children and we have 800 youth leaders besides 15 full-time coaches. In Yadgir district of Karnataka, we started in December 2016 and we have 18 youth leaders training more than 200 children. The Vizag unit started recently with 100 children, while Delhi has three full-time coaches and 200 students. Ranchi, Jharkhand, started in 2014 with 400 children with two full-time coaches and 12 youth learners. The recruitment of boys and girls happens through communities and schools.

KU: What is the role of Western India Football Association (Maharashtra) and All India Football Federation?

OSCAR coaches participate in various grassroots coaching and training sessions that WIFA and AIFF organise. Many coaches now have their D-license and are preparing for more advanced levels in coaching. OSCAR children (trainees) also receive invitations to (watch) Indian Super League matches through WIFA and AIFF.

KU: What is your dream for the OSCAR children?

We would love to see OSCAR boys and girls getting selected for the national team. We want to provide as many opportunities as possible to children who aspire to be professional footballers.