With 2018 FIFA World Cup underway in Russia, football frenzy is at its peak across the globe. More and more fans are taking inspiration from their heroes, wearing the jerseys, and playing the sport.
In Pune too, fans are savouring every moment of FIFA on TV, mobile phones or laptops, and even playing football at the sports arenas and futsal courts. We catch up with a few working professionals who take out time from their busy schedules to play the sport even at odd hours, and also founders of sports arena who are facilitating sports for enthusiasts in the city.
“I consider myself lucky because the school I studied in gave equal importance to sports and education because of which I was able to find my passion in football,” says Parag Nikam, an entrepreneur, who has been playing football for long now and has also participated in many inter-school and inter-college football matches. He believes that even though he got busy with life the passion stayed with him. “Be it in the early hours of the day or the middle of the night, playing the game energises me and helps me work efficiently,” he says adding that even though the sport requires running around and a huge amount of energy, by the end of the game one feels refreshed.
Nikam, who holds the Centre Forward position in his team and enjoys playing football at Sangamwadi Ground and Ground Zero near Mhatre Bridge, says, “For me, football practice has become much easier with more and more sports arenas coming up across the city and staying open 24x7.”
Azim Mulla, who has also been playing football for a very long time, says, “Being on field is mentally calming and refreshing for me.” Earlier, when he started working with an IT firm in Pune, it was not possible for him to step out every now and then to play. The only time he could devote to football was late in the night. “Football is a priority for me and I am dedicated towards the game because of which I really don’t mind playing at odd hours,” Mulla says, who also manages a club called Gunners FC.
Talking about the turfs that are rapidly coming up in the city, he says, “It is an amazing concept not just for me but for all football lovers since there are so many people playing at different hours of the day at the sports grounds which are open for 24 hours.”
He adds that not just grown-ups but also budding talented youngsters are putting in a lot of effort, which is evident in the way they take out time from their hectic school/ college schedules for football practise.
Edward Anthony, operations manager at Tech Mahindra, says that he discovered his love for football since he was a child and would watch his dad play the game. “I play football after a long stressful day at work and truly enjoy the concept of playing football in the middle of the night when the world sleeps. The game comes to life at night,” he says.
With the ever growing number of fitness enthusiasts in Pune, sports arenas too are growing. Sagar Chalwadi, co-owner of Sports Arena, Dhanori, says, “Our aim was to provide fitness to our clients by playing a sport and not by making lame New Year Resolutions like hitting the gym and quitting in a few days.”
During his growing-up years, Chalwadi played outdoor games. “But now with rapid urbanisation the question is: ‘Where do we play?’, ‘Would it be safe?’ etc. That’s where we come in, providing everyone a safe place to play even at wee hours, whenever one finds a convenient time,” he says.
Apart from having a football ground, Sports Arena also has box cricket, basketball and tennis courts and a skating rink as well. “We do have a lot of people coming in after work late at night to play especially keeping in mind the 2018 FIFA World Cup,” says Chalwadi claiming that their ground is the only 7-a-side turf in the city.
Though we have huge enthusiasm, diehard fans and talented players, Indians are yet to see their national football team play at FIFA World Cup. Pavit Singh, director, Hotfut Sports Infrastructure Pvt Ltd, rightly puts it, “India, as a country, has one of the largest participation gaps, in terms of interest vs participation in sports, in the world.” He adds that it happens not because of lack of demand, interest or passion but mainly due to lack of sports infrastructure.
Hotfut Arena, which has two branches in Pune, is the first turf ground in the city. “Having facilities come up in barely a few years is a clear indicator as to the need and the desire to participate in sports,” he says.
He truly believes that the participation, no matter in which sport, is the truest form of grassroots sports development. He points out that in the past few years there has also been a rise in demand of the ‘Corporate Brawl’ — a tournament where corporate firms compete with each other with their own football teams.
Hotfut Arena in Mundhwa is one of the few places where people love to head to for a friendly and even a real match.