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Israil Gurung: "What I know is football – that's how I give back to my community"

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Israil Gurung established a youth training academy in his hometown of Jaigaon, India. The former Churchill Brothers player uses football to create a sense of community for the children who attend, while encouraging them to stay in education for as long as possible.

By Israil Gurung

Many of my friends tell me I’m foolish. I could still have three years left of my playing career and yet this season, I have turned down offers to sign with clubs. Sometimes, when I see my old team-mates playing, I really miss it – but I can’t do two things at once.

Around three years ago, I set up the Israil Gurung Football Academy to help teach football to the children in my hometown of Jaigaon, and I’ve discovered that what we do is an essential building block for our community. I can’t just walk away from that.

Football in this instance is so much more than just a hobby; it’s a discipline, it’s a way of educating participants about health, nutrition and sport, and for some, it can even be a career option.

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Our rural location on the border of India unfortunately means that there are a lot of drugs passing through the town, introducing bad influences and miserable futures to our youth. I want to pull them away from that and give them a safe space.

I don’t differentiate between the boys and the girls; for a community to thrive, both need to have an education and a balanced view of the world. My aim is to show them a life outside of that which they know and make them aspire to be a part of that. For a select few football will open those doors, like it did for me, but for others, simply encouraging them to stick with their education is enough to change the course of their lives.

We’ve almost created a community of our own within the academy and, no matter their age, gender or background, I’ll never turn anyone away that wants to be a part of what we do. If football gives them a positive focus, then it’s worth it. Some of the children who show up truly have nothing; no-one to care for them, no prospects of an education, and a daily struggle for food. We work to provide what we can alongside the training, whether it’s something to eat once they’ve finished playing, small pieces of education, or whatever else is at our disposal to ensure that they come along each day.

However, with limited resources, there’s only so much that we can do. The infrastructure is of a poor standard and the grounds are often shared with livestock.

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The Football Players’ Association of India has helped to provide us with the equipment that we need, and I’m fortunate enough to have friends in the industry who offer their support – whether donating balls, cones or whatever else. However, what we really need is financial backing. We need the leaders of our community to invest in our youth; to build a life for them that is better than the one that we knew, in the hope that they will in turn do the same for future generations.

The world is advancing every day and we are being left behind. Without healthcare and education we are holding our people back, condemning them to be born and to die in a stagnant society.

Despite the difficulties that we face, I truly love the work that we do. Training is a serious business, and I make sure that all of our participants are focused upon the task at hand. But you can see them smiling through their efforts – truly enjoying being a part of something.

They joke about; they open up to me, their coaches, and peers and, sometimes just for a moment, they forget about the hardships that face them. They are simply children who are enjoying football.

“I want them to be better than me, to achieve more, and inspire a whole new generation”

— by Israil Gurung

I am just one man and what I know is football. So, that is how I give back to my community. But it’s not enough and I can’t do it forever. I have my own aspirations for a coaching career, but who will take up my mantle when I am gone?

I am an example of someone who went out into the world and achieved something that would have seemed impossible when I was growing up. When I returned to my hometown, it was something that children looked up to me for.

What I want is for these children I train to be that example for someone else; I want more of them to go out and make their mark on their world and show their community what is possible if you expand your horizons. I want them to be better than me, to achieve more, and inspire a whole new generation – but for that to happen, we need the support of the generations that have come before.

FIFPRO's Community Champion series highlights a professional footballer’s activities that positively impact the lives of others. Discover more HERE.