For the poor, by the stars

Brothers in arms… Santi Freixa (left), Adrian D’Souza (centre) and Andreu Enrich team up for StickforIndia.-DASARI NAGAPPA Brothers in arms… Santi Freixa (left), Adrian D’Souza (centre) and Andreu Enrich team up for StickforIndia.

Leading international players have joined hands to launch StickforIndia, a project to promote hockey at the grassroot level. By A. Joseph Antony.

On a hockey field, Spain’s explosive centre-forward Santi Freixa and Indian goalkeeper Adrian D’Souza would be implacable foes, each trying to outsmart the other. Off it, they have joined hands for ‘StickforIndia,’ an initiative involving some of the leading lights of international hockey.

At the Rural Development Trust (RDT), an NGO based in Anantapur (Andhra Pradesh), the Olympians mingled freely with poor children, shaking their hands or fondly tousling their hair. When the kids greeted the players, Freixa said, “It’s not good evening, it should be good afternoon,” squinting at the summer sun that showed no respite even though the clock showed the time was past four.

During the training routines, things got serious, cones in place and goalkeepers geared up in full hockey armour. “The kids form a line even for the smallest input,” said Adrian, to whom such discipline was alien in his childhood. After fierce competitions among in-house teams of the RDT Hockey Academy, Freixa handed out the prizes. A pair of shin pads, gifted by Australian Jamie Dwyer, was given to the best attacker; so were sticks from the Dutch drag-flicker, Taeke Taekema.

Although not formally launched, the start-up slated for the European Nations Cup in August, the sale of pixels has been encouraging. Some of the famous buyers include Andrew Smith and Alyson Annan (Australia), Matthias Witthaus, Max Weinhold (Germany), Alex Fabregas and Sergi Enrique (Spain). Enrich is optimistic that a 760-member Facebook community will prove helpful for the project.

Back in Europe, Freixa struggles to juggle with his roles as student of business management and a member of Amsterdam team in the Dutch League. In Anantapur, the heat may have got under his skin, but the kids had ready access to him, his skills and expertise. His stature on the hockey turf has earned Freixa and his project many friends, across continents.

German Timo Wess, International Hockey Federation (FIH) President Leanardo Negre and the current Indian coach, Jose Brasa, are well-wishers of the scheme as are Indians Adrian, Vinay V. S., Vikram Kanth, Hari Prasad besides past greats Dhanraj Pillay, Mukesh Kumar and Harinder Singh.

Much of the groundwork was done by Enrich, who, following a visit to RDT after the Chennai Champions Trophy in 2005, enlisted the support of their club Atletic Terrassa, whose lady members sold roses on St. George’s Day to raise funds for the venture. In 2006, Spanish woman international Clara Vancells and Anna Serra accompanied Enrich to the first summer camp for children aged between 12 and 16 years.

The scheme has flourished with Enrich returning eight times since then, conducting refresher courses for coaches, running the scheme and handing over hockey equipment, ranging from 300 hockey sticks to goalkeeper pads that were funded mostly by contributions from Terrassa members.

While the RDT Hockey Academy has benefited players mostly from Anantapur, the academy hopes to boost its residential strength from 25 to 30, the additional five to be recruited from districts across Andhra Pradesh.

Enrich, Friexa and RDT hope to raise resources for an astro-turf that will cost Rs. 1.6 crores. Once that’s laid, the academy’s doors will be thrown open to talent from across the country.