It's game on as sporting spirit binds fans from across the city

What comes to your mind when you think of Mumbai? For an ardent sports lover, it will be Sachin Tendulkar, the city’s very own God of Cricket. Youth dressed in white playing with gusto at Azad Maidan, the silence in the streets when India is playing a crucial game, the growing number of children and especially girls taking up cricket as a career is a sign that aamchi Mumbai will remain a cricketing loyalist. Former Indian cricketer, ex-coach of U-19 Indian cricket team and ex-manager of the winning Indian team of Twenty20 World Championship (2007), Lalchand Rajput once played on the grounds of Mumbai. “Sports is very important as it teaches you how to handle success and failure and Mumbai’s sport culture is very simple. It teaches you that you should never give up at any moment,” he affirms. “I don’t think cricket will ever see a slump; it will remain one of the top sports in India,” he adds.

This does come at the cost of other sports. The video where Sunil Chhetri made an emotional appeal to Indians urging everyone to come watch the Intercontinental Cup last year had sparked thoughtful debate around the country. The pitiful sight of the captain of the Indian football team requesting with folded hands brought forth a stream of support and sympathy. Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar and others came forward in support of Chhetri. Football is increasingly making its presence felt in many parts of the city. Oval Maidan, Bombay Gymkhana and The Cooperage Football Ground are the prime examples of how football is flourishing in the city.

Former Indian football Goalkeeper and the Chief Executive Officer at the Western India Football Association (WIFA), Henry Menezes asserts, “The transition which has taken place today, is because of the youthfulness of the parents who feel sports has become an integrated part of health. But more important is the opportunities their kids are getting. Earlier there were no football competition for girls but now there are competitions which are organised by the MSSA (Mumbai School Sports Association) especially for girls. Earlier we used to have only eight district teams participating in Maharashtra but now the number has risen to 28 districts.”

Sport is now becoming an integral part of Mumbaikars’ lifestyle, a great way to stay fit and youthful. Jay Pandya, a media student and cricket enthusiast, shares, “For me, a sport is something which has to be enjoyed while playing as well as while watching it. Playing any sport helps a person to remain healthy, physically and mentally.”

The number of young Mumbaikars who are playing for the pride of their family and nation has increased. Aryaman Masiha, a handball player, reveals, “Sports has played a big role in my life. I got the opportunity to play for my school and then state level, national and international level. Representing our country gives the best feeling in the world. And making my parents and family proud inspired me to do more. I got everything because of sports!”

On the other hand, due to space crunch and the ubiquitous cell phone addiction, gully cricket is vanishing in the city. Rajput, who grew up playing the sport informally in the bylanes of Mumbai, says, “Gully cricket was an important part of my life. It is also important for every kid as it makes you smart and it teaches you how to make decisions in crunch situations and teaches you how to adjust and adapt.”

Though celebrities from the sporting and film world have been popularising sports, there is still a long way to go. Says Riya Tank, who represents the state’s women’s football team, “I would be happy if the women’s football team was given equal exposure and chances just like the men. However, don’t give up even

if you feel side-lined; keep doing your best, give your heart and blood to the game and make your family, parents and nation proud!” With the right push, even emerging spots like kabaddi, MMA, volleyball and wrestling have the potential to soon become major sports in the coming years. A win-win situation for Mumbai, for sure!

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