Sunil Chhetri

Team India skipper Sunil Chhetri commended the ongoing Reliance Foundation Youth Sports (RFYS) football tournament for identifying young talents at the right time and providing them a platform to showcase their talents.

Chhetri hailed the competitiveness of RFYS, which is into its sixth season currently, as he earmarked it as the perfect stage that young athletes can make use of to progress professionally.

“It (RFYS) is important because we are identifying them (talents) at the right time and age. Also, the tournament is highly competitive. It gives all the young girls and boys the right platform to showcase their skills,” Sunil Chhetri said in an interaction recently.

“A lot of youngsters who have done well in the tournament are playing for clubs like Bengaluru FC and others, so I think it’s the right platform. I hope not only this tournament, but a lot of other tournaments also come up because we have so much talent in our nation,” he added.

Sunil Chhetri’s Bengaluru FC teammate Sivasakthi Narayanan is an ideal example of the same. The 22-year-old forward played in the RFYS and was even a part of the inaugural edition of the Reliance Foundation Development League (RFDL) in 2022. He had a standout campaign for the Blues in the Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23 and was also named as the captain of the squad for the AFC U-23 Asian Cup Qualifiers by their head coach Clifford Miranda.

Additionally, ISL players such as Hira Mondal (NorthEast United FC), Makan Winkle Chothe (Hyderabad FC), Gurnaj Singh Grewal (East Bengal FC) along with women’s footballers like Shilky Devi Hemam and Mariyammal Balamurugan are also products of the RFYS ecosystem, having participated in the tournament previously. Melroy Melwin Assisi, who has netted once in five appearances for ISL debutants Punjab FC this season, is also someone who has played in the RFYS formerly. They have set the blueprint for all the players taking part in the competition at present and showed that a promising pathway exists for them to take the step up in their respective professional careers.

This 23/24 season RFYS is undertaking specific efforts to boost female participation in the competition this season onwards. Equal enrolment of boys and girls is an objective and the introduction of U-15 girls’ category is a measure to realise the same. Sunil Chhetri is pleased with the initiative, saying that it’s high time that women’s football gets a push in the country and they receive adequate opportunities to display their potential at all possible levels.

“It’s great news, kudos. I think it’s high time that girls in our country, who are really talented, are given the right platform to perform,” Sunil Chhetri quipped.

Expansion of the talent pool of promising youngsters is a subsequent outcome of the RFYS. The program is looking to integrate professional clubs within its scouting network to identify and nurture the untapped potential across multiple regions. Chhetri saw it as a positive move towards working in coordination for the betterment of emerging prospects.

“It gives a bigger pool to choose (players) from. It makes sure that everyone comes together; the clubs and the parent body so that we can inculcate as many talents as possible and work in tandem. It will give us a bigger pool to choose from and it’s also going to give us a lot of scope to make all the talents do well in the future,” Sunil Chhetri signed off.

Here are some key highlights of the RFYS on going football tournaments:

  • The sixth season (2023/24) of the five-month long tournament (RFYS) is being hosted in 18 championship centres across the country. Amongst these, the matches are set to round off in the centres of Haryana, Meghalaya, Jamshedpur, and Hyderabad on November 11 whereas they are still actively underway in Goa, Kolhapur, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Mizoram, Chandigarh, Tamil Nadu, Bengaluru, North Kerala, and South Kerala. In fact, the RFYS Championship Centre in Haryana was introduced for the first time in this campaign.
  • Increased Female Participation: RFYS is focusing on enhancing the participation of girls in the tournament. In the 2023/24 season, they will introduce the U-15 age group category in addition to the U-19 category for girls
  • Up-skilling of coaching officials – RFYS plans to upskill over 1,000 coaches and match officials, including 300 women.
  • Participation:
    • Age Categories: U-15 & U-19 for girls; U-15, U-17, U-19, U-21 for boys.
    • 24,000+ athletes from 1650+ teams are expected to participate this season.
    • More than 2900 matches to be played in the upcoming RFYS season.

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