Bengal’s jailbirds seek redemption through football

Kolkata, Sep 22 (IANS) Looking at the deft passes and the curving kicks, or the diving saves by the goalkeeper, once could hardly believe the 22 men creating magic with the ball at the East Bengal Club ground here on Tuesday were not professional footballers, instead of those convicted and sentenced for murderer, abduction and robbery.

The final of the Vivek Cup – an annual football tournament involving prisoners, saw defending champion Presidency Correctional Home lift the title again courtesy a brace by Nigerian forward Jude Chikenzie.

Presidency beat the team from Dum Dum Correctional Home 2-0 amid loud cheers from the motley group of crowd as Presidency jail authorities jumped in joy.

Organised by the West Bengal correctional services department and the Football Lovers Association (FLA) -an organisation promoting the game, the football tournament began in 2012 involving teams from the state’s six central correctional homes – Presidency, Alipore, Dum Dum, Midnapore, Baharampur and Jalpaiguri.

“This is perhaps the only open football tournament being played in the country involving jail inmates. While kabaddi is promoted as a major sporting activity in all central correctional homes, Bengal is known for football and we have many inmates who really have a passion for the game,” Additional Director General (Prisons & Correctional Services) Adhir Sharma told IANS.

Sharma said besides sports, art and music, yoga and meditation classes are regularly conducted for channelising the energy of the prisoners towards a positive direction.

Behind bars since August last year, Chikenzie, a professional footballer and having stints with the Sitra and Al-Ittihad football clubs in Bahrain, hopes his exploits at the field would impress the authorities to help him get back home in Lagos.

“It’s great to see so much talent among the people here. I am so delighted that I could contribute towards my team becoming the champion,” Chikenzie told IANS.

“It has been over a year since I landed up in jail for visa and passport related issues. I had dreams of playing for football clubs in Calcutta (Kolkata), but that was never to be. I want to go back home,” added the 35-year-old.

Besides Chikenzie, several foreigner inmates – mostly from Nigeria and Bangladesh – participated in the two-week long tournament.

Dejected at the loss of his team, Dum Dum coach and one of the main organisers of the tournament, Mihir Das however, is all smiles at the success of the tournament.

“Some of them are so talented that they can match many of the players turning out for football clubs. It is really heartening to see how this tournament has helped the inmates to achieve redemption,” Das told IANS.

Convicted in August for murdering his wife, Raju Shil says he finds solace in the “beautiful game”.

“I cannot describe how it feels to realise that my life is ruined. I will never get back the life I had, my job, my family. Its football in which I find solace, I find my redemption,” the 30-year-old Shil told IANS.

–Indo-Asian News service


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