Gurmangal Dass Soni’s football club in his village, Rurka Kalan, shows how the power of sports can be harnessed to bring about social change.
2016 film Udta Punjab may have put the spotlight on Punjab’s drug problem, but the state has been grappling with the issue for long. A 2017 BBC report stated that an Indian government study suggests that more than 860,000 young men in the state, between the ages of 15-35, take some form of drugs. Big cities and small villages, the epidemic is widespread.
The story was the same in Rurka Kalan, a village in the Tehsil Phillaur of Jalandhar, Punjab. But Gurmangal Dass Soni, a native of the region and an electronics engineer, is slowly bringing about change through sports.
Gurmangal started a football team in his village by the name, Youth Football Club. By 2003, the academy joined hands with a registered society that is now overlooking the finances of the club, so much so that any charity coming into the club is now tax exempted.
But what of the football team? The team, in its first few years, went on to play for the Punjab second division football league.
After finding success, the football club has adopted four government schools in Rurka Kalan. It also oversees the expense of 40 students at the residential football academy, and runs 12 centres in 12 villages where football coaching, kits, and lifestyle enablement is provided to 2,000 children. The club also manages a computer training centre where 300 students are taught and provided with a stipend. Apart from this, it has provided football coaching for 84 girls, support for 100 kabaddi players, and organised regular health screening, youth development, and environmental awareness camps, says The Better India.
In a conversation with The Tribune, Gurmangal said,
“In Punjab, drug menace is a big problem. The youth do not have role models. We provide them a platform through sports, educating and facilitating them to go forward with their skill.”