The second edition of the path-breaking Reliance Foundation Youth Sports’ national football competition kicked off in Kochi on Wednesday.
RFYS chairperson Nita Ambani kicked off the event with CK Vineeth and RFYS product Ajith Sivan present at Rajagiri Public School to witness an opening qualifier match between the hosts Rajagiri (RPS) and Assisi Vidya Niketan.
A second half goal by RPS forward Athul from a corner proved to be the matchwinner in a game that showcased plenty of talent during the ninety minutes of action. Siddarth Warrier from the winning team grabbed the 'Player of the Match' award. RPS' Tinu impressed with his linkup play with goalscorer Athul throughout the game.
One of the poignant moments at the launch was the induction of Ajith Sivan, a 20-year-old student of Nirmala College in Kochi, into the Kerala Blasters team for the upcoming ISL. Ajith, who is an RFYS product, was recently picked up by Kerala Blasters in the ISL draft. The talented youngster was presented with the yellow jersey by Mrs Nita Ambani and CK Vineeth at halftime.
“Reliance Foundation Youth Sports has been conceived to reignite sports in schools and colleges,” Mrs Ambani said, just before the inaugural match between Rajagiri Public School and Assisi Vidya Niketan.
“Our aim is to create a unified sports structure through RYFS and have a holistic plan for all major Olympic sports. We would like to provide viable sports career opportunities for the youth of our country", she added.
Kerala Blasters forward CK Vineeth, who stayed until the very end to watch the kids play out an exciting match, praised the impact of such development programs in Indian football.
"The kids are getting opportunities and I didn’t get any of these like him (Ajith Sivan)”. I didn’t even see a ground at that time. The important thing is the opportunity to play, but it is closely followed by the facilities. We can’t make Ronaldos or Messis with a small infrastructure; we need large infrastructure and that’s how the players will do better.”
“Thirdly, it is the publicity. You can see how people and kids are sitting here. If I can share my life, ISL and all these things totally changed my life.”
“I have been playing for the past 6-7 years. Most of them here already knew me. But after the past couple of ISLs, the whole of Kerala knows me. That’s the difference made by being part of a football team”, said Vineeth.
He was proved right soon after the match as hundreds of school kids ran towards him requesting for autographs and selfies.
The RFYS football tournament is set to become the biggest grassroots effort in the country, with over 3,000 educational institutes and more than 60,000 children preparing to compete over the next five months.
The championship which was held in the eight ISL cities in the inaugural year will see participation from Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Shillong, Aizwal, Imphal, Hyderabad and Jamshedpur as well this year. In Kerala and Goa, the RYFS 2017-18 season will extend to schools and colleges throughout these states.
“Ajith showcased his skills in the RFYS tournament last year. He proved to be so good and promising that the Blasters have already picked him up,” Mrs Ambani proudly declared. “We are confident that we will help discover many more Ajith Sivan’s in the country with our long term commitment to grassroots sports”, she added.
The RFYS national football competition will be played in four categories: Junior Boys, Senior Boys, Senior Girls and College Boys. It will begin with the pre-qualifying rounds in each city and will be followed by the main draw to pick the worthy winner; the winning teams will then compete with each other to coronate the national champion. 25 teams are expected to be picked in the main draw.
Reliance Foundation Youth Sports will produce video footage from the matches, starting with the main draw. This will help the scouts assess the raw talent across the country. Additionally, the archived video footage is expected to assist in technical analysis and also in identifying shortcomings so that they can be curbed at a young age itself.
Speaking after the game, player of the match Siddarth thanked RFYS for providing such a platform for them to perform. He also went on to claim that this is the best way to spot talent across India.
Kerala Blasters midfielder Ajith Sivan spoke exclusively to Goal after the event. "I used to be a supporter cheering the team from the stands. Now I have the opportunity to play for the same team. It's unbelievable." exclaimed Sivan, who failed to hide the delight on his face behind his shy demeanour.
"I like watching Barcelona and Lionel Messi is my favourite player. When it comes to Kerala Blasters team, CK Vineeth is the player I look up to" he revealed.
Former Nirmala College midfielder Ajith Sivan's inclusion in the Yellow Army squad remains RFYS' biggest achievement in the state. The youngster from Idukki is set to take the field for the Kochi-based club alongside former Manchester United player Wes Brown when the fourth season of Indian Super League kicks off later this year.