While people in the country are fighting for equal gender rights in all walks of life, we have Kerala again taking the lead and setting an example, this time with sports!
The Mapila town of Malappuram witnessed an unusual and historic event when women, men, and transgender people rubbed shoulders to play football on February 10, 2016. It all started in January when Yuvasamithi, a group of youngsters working for socially relevant campaigns, under the leadership of Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad (KSSP), organised a Gender-Neutral Football League (GNFL) as part of its SCRIBES science-cultural fest.
The flag-off for the league-level tournament, the first of its kind, was at the Government High School Grounds at Pilicode in Kasaragod district on January 15, where teams comprising of men, women and transgender people played against each other, upholding true sportsman spirit. Other district-level matches were scheduled for February, and the final round was played last Friday at Malappuram.
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Kerala has not only made the most of a popular sport but also broken the norms to bring a positive change in the society in a very genuine way. The state with the highest literacy rate in the country is now also at the top when it comes to being progressive.
Pradeep, the chairman of Yuvasamithi and KSSP Kasaragod president, said to Kochipost in the flag off during January that the idea was to break the taboo that games like football are only for males. He feels there could be no better platform to kickstart the gender neutrality campaign. “Football is one of the favourite and widely-played of games in Kerala. However, apart from males, no other genders are made a part of it irrespective of the fact that they might be interested or have the talent to play football well. This is the reason why we thought we could start with football,” he said.
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He also called it a crucial step in empowering transgender people who have to face negligence and mental torture from society, with this being their first chance to portray their skills in sports, as well as mingle with others without any inhibitions or restrictions. He also stated that playgrounds should be the places where gender neutrality should be propagated with immediate effect and if started at the school level itself then children get the message that every gender should be respected and treated equally.
Four teams comprising women, men, and transgender people fought it out in the tournament. The Women Soccer Academy, Vallikkunnu, the Women’s Academy, Kozhikode; the Students FT, Thutha, and the Kadathanad Raja Academy fielded teams with seven women, three men, and one transgender person in each team. The number of men was reduced to three in an 11-member team because of the power play involved in football. When men were given fixed positions of full-back, half-back, and forward, women and transgender people enjoyed the freedom of other positions in the field. The female player would replace the absence of the transgender player if at all they are not able to play a match.
The organisers who were initially worried about opposition from certain conservative groups were pleasantly surprised at the enthusiastic response and cheering from the crowd of Malappuram.
The Women’s Academy, Kozhikode won the final championship by beating the Vallikkunnu team 3-1. The crowds broke open the floodgates of celebration. “It’s jubilation of not just football, but of gender neutrality,” said Mr Sreejit.
As we all know, talent and skills are not defined by gender, and everybody is entitled to equal opportunities when it comes to education and sports. The next round of the game is said to be held in Palakkad. We hope more youngsters and authorities from other states take a cue from this and create a platform which offers equal opportunities for all genders, economic backgrounds and castes, especially in sports.