On the football turf, 16-year-old Mouli Balaji seems almost unstoppable – expertly kicking the ball, weaving through the players. He passes to 19-year-old Robin Razul, who recently bagged the Best Player Award at a national football tournament.
Mouli, with cerebral palsy, and Razul, with one arm, are just a couple of players from the very promising CP (Cerebral Palsy) football team in Tamil Nadu.
They are among the eight players selected from the state to constitute the National Cerebral Palsy Football team.
The players will represent the country in the upcoming International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football (IFCPF) Under-19 World Cup set to take place in Spain this August.
Trained and mentored by Siddheshwaran KP of Cerebral Palsy Sports Association Tamil Nadu, the team has eight under-19 players.
“This team has performed consistently in all the tournaments they’ve been to so far,” says Bharanitharan SK, the association’s Vice-President.
Formed by Siddheshwaran just a year ago – who travelled across the state, handpicking the players from different districts – the team won its first silver last year in Goa.
In January this year, they were pitted against Nepal in the South Asian Football Championship, bagging a silver again.
A total of 15 players – 8 from Tamil Nadu, 4 from Bihar and 3 from Rajasthan – will fly to Spain later this year to take part in the World Cup.
Siddheshwaran, a national-level sportsperson himself, shares that the team requires funding to help them train for the upcoming World Cup. “We’ve made arrangements with a school in Salem to help us practise. However, our main concern lies in building a turf with artificial grass. A soft ground helps the players enormously, their injuries are less severe then,” he says.
The team has partnered with Edudharma, an online crowdfunding platform, to help raise Rs 30 lakhs for their infrastructure. Donate here to help them train better.
In the past decade, CP football has grown in leaps and bounds with more football associations coming forward to support players. The creation of the 7-a-side CP Football Federation of India and the organisation of annual national championships have given the sport a major push.