Manchester (United Kingdom) (AFP) – ‘Slum Soccer’ winning the inaugural FIFA Diversity award will mean the world to India, better known for its cricket than football, the CEO Abhijeet Barse told AFP on Monday.

‘Slum Soccer’ saw off two other short-listed rivals — The International Gay and Lesbian Football Association (ILGBTFA) and British anti-discrimination pressure group ‘Kick It Out’ — to take the award.

“This is absolutely thrilling for India, being acknowledged for a football project when India doesn’t ever make the football headlines!” an overjoyed Barse said at the Soccerex Global Football Convention.

“This will help us project ourselves onto the Government with this sort of publicity.

“The Government used to see it as education versus sport but now they see sport is part of education.”  

‘Slum Soccer’ Barse explained takes in children who are outcasts in society and gets them playing football as a means to getting their confidence back with the ultimate goal of  re-integrating them into society.

“They just give up because they have no direction and don’t feel part of the community,” he said.

“We go not only into the slums but also to schools and we take children who feel marginalised.

“At the moment we have around 12,000 on a daily basis in the project not just in the cities but also in the villages and rural areas.”

Barse, who is an academic by background, said that it had been wonderful to see some of the successes they had had in their different children.

“Many have gone on to gain the confidence to apply for and obtain jobs,” he said.

“Some have even returned to our project as coaches. Others have returned to resume their education and are absorbed back into the community that once they didn’t feel part of.

“That is because we have built up their confidence through playing together and being a unit, learning off each other as much as from us adults.”

Barse, whose project is backed by among others UNICEF and FIFA’s Football For Hope, said that his father had been the brainchild behind the project.

“He was a sportsman himself, a handball player,” said Barse.

“But he came from a very poor background and he knew that lots of children wouldn’t be getting opportunities to shine because of their origins.

“Thus 14 years ago he started up ‘Slum Soccer’ to give them a possibility of hope. And it grew and grew.”

However, success as often the case had its price as Barse Senior discovered and his son observed.

“He realised it was unmanageable and I saw the impact it was having on him,” said Barse.

“I was doing my PhD in the US at the time but I decided that I would return and help,” he said.

“I have no regrets because of the joy it brings. Of course there are challenges but different to the ones I found in academia.

“It is very satisfying.”