Every Wednesday and Sunday evening around 45 boys come together on the muddy ground at Shivaji Park to play a game that isn’t often seen in India – Australian Rules Football. But it’s not just the rules that are special – the game brings young people from different communities together.
Australian national Lincoln Harris has teamed up with us to offer a twice weekly opportunity for kids to learn a new sport and get away from Dharavi for a couple hours. For residents of Dharavi it’s a way to break the isolation they experience by connecting with people from a wide range of social and economic backgrounds.
“When it comes to team sport, especially one as physically demanding as “Aussie Rules”, you don’t think about where your teammates are from or what their background is. And unlike cricket which is so well known in India, with Aussie Rules everyone is learning the game and being pushed out of their comfort zone, so what you get is teamwork between people who otherwise don’t have much in common” says Lincoln Harris, who started the training sessions with some kids from his neighbourhood.
And if the results are anything to go by, the harmonizing power of sport, and particularly Aussie Rules, is clear: Young men from Dharavi now joke and play with foreign expats, well-off university students and kids of all ages and backgrounds from the Matunga and Mahim areas of the city. What were casual training sessions with just a handful of kids have grown to a group of more than 40 regular players, of which a third come from Dharavi.
With six months of training behind them, the ‘Grand Final’ took place on Sunday afternoon between the Mahim Cats and the Matunga Tigers. After a controversial ‘goal’ from USA expat Danny Bush, the Tigers secured a close victory 34 vs 25. Having picked up the trophy, winning captain Mayur Parmar said that it had been a lot of fun, that the muddy conditions had made the game more enjoyable.
Harris, who was inspired by Reclink Australia, an organisation which aims to better the lives of disadvantaged people though sport, hopes the sport will be played in other India’s cities and that a national competition can be set up. “There is an Aussie rules team in Kolkata as well so if the players continue practicing we hope to stage a tournament next year. That would be a great motivation for the young guys to stay involved in the group and to spread the word about Australian Football in India” says Lincoln.