My very own “Bend It Like Beckham!”
Updated: Jun 11
Like most other NRK families, going to Kerala, during summer vacations was that trip of the year I always looked forward to. I am a proud Malayali as I pretty much love almost everything about my home city and state and being able to explore cultures did always fascinate me.
Eating all the yummy food, spending time with my grandma, and along with it are some of my fondest memories of standing in the middle of a crowd gathered near the town junction watching the FIFA World Cup Matches. Two of many instances that I can recollect now from my book of memories are - 2010: Wesley Sneijder (one of my favorites), the Dutch who ruled the midfield for the Orange and scored two goals in the quarter-final & 2006: Referee Graham Poll who showed 3 yellow cards (a major fail & he hasn’t refereed in the tournament since) to Josip Simunic (when the Aussies booked their place in the WC Round of 16 for the first time)
I was euphoric to see how Malayalees go bonkers over football and celebrate the journey of teams like Argentina, Brazil, Portugal, and many more like one of their own, and this in many ways heavily infested the same passion in me as well. Luckily, every major tournament like the FIFA World Cup or the Euro or the Copa America would be around the corner during my vacations. I loved the way football brought the entire town together and it was the best show of secularism and the power of a community.
The ever-growing curious kid in me, thought of things a bit differently, when everyone was busy arguing over Beckham, Zidane, and Ronaldo, I was intrigued by what went behind the scenes that made it what it is. I was appalled by how the whole extravaganza would unfold like a perfect musical, the little kids leading the players onto the pitch, national anthems sung in full glory with huge flags, the rhythm of the game, timely breaks in between the halves, referees, and linesmen doing their thing without an iota of doubt, so on and so forth.
Thanks to my mom's genes, I was a good Badminton player, and participated in competitive tournaments and also played handball. Though chess was the first sport I played at an International Level when I was 13, I didn't really pursue it post that. And that is pretty much my background in sport as a sportsperson.
The science & technology enthusiast in me was more on my priority as a person going forward in an academic perspective. I decided to pursue Mechanical Production Engineering and my long-term plan was to prepare for a Harvard/Standford/Boconni MBA post 4-5 years of working as an Engineer to move to a more growth & strategy role. The more I watched international sporting tournaments, the more I wanted to know how did it all work in such tandem, and reading more and more about it, watching documentaries did definitely inspire me to do such work. Albeit, it took me until college to get my first ever exposure to sports management. Word had spread that volunteers were invited for the National Games 2015 in Kerala, no second thought and there I go to apply to volunteer for the football games and got through. Although for less than a month, I woke up with a feeling I have never had before. I was exhilarated that finally, I was part of a team that does all the hard work to bring sport as it is on your TVs. It gave me the right exposure to knowing the industry from the inside. It was during this volunteering stint that one of the Match Officials during a casual conversation mentioned the various Sports Management Courses in Europe. That very day, I went and googled and found ”The FIFA Master” Program, ranked the best year after year, and there it goes to my list of post-grad program options.
The National Games experience, despite being minuscule in comparison to what I did in the later years, was a bug bite for me to realize that working for sport is something I enjoy. After I completed my undergrad studies, automobile being another whole segment that pounds my heart, I joined an Oil & Gas Company and that kept me happy. Identifying myself as a multipotentialite, working for sport was always at the back of my head and that often drew me to many sporting event opportunities in the country.
There is always a twist in most real-world stories, there is one in mine as well - India hosting its first-ever FIFA Tournament - FIFA Under 17 World Cup 2017. One split-second thought of self-realization and confidence while I was hunting for volunteering opportunities on their website, changed my fate and I landed a job that totally tweaked my thought on working for sports.
Those months working with colleagues from all over the world - representatives of FIFA, I literally fell in love with the whole experience - learning, growing & enjoying. And just can’t resist not mentioning two of my proudest achievements during that tenure of work - truly marking a history of its own - firstly, the very first time a FIFA tournament logo was ever displayed as a flower carpet and secondly getting featured on FIFA.com - this one was definitely not something that I dreamt of in the near future then, but thanks Diego Zandrino for finding our story interesting and taking it across the globe. Sometimes when the smallest of your wishes come true, it's a different feeling, a feeling of being content to an extreme that's joyful.
The fire kept burning ever since and I embarked on my journey as a sports management professional as I did stints with ISL, NBA, etc afterward. In 2018, I quit my job to prepare myself for the sporting world, I did sporting events during the season and worked for startups during off-seasons.
So when Covid happened and the whole of the sporting industry was finding its way through, I worked for the Covid edition of ISL - life in a bio-bubble - and we as a team delivered a successful event in difficult times like these. But then it also struck my mind of how I can make the most of these unprecedented times we are all part of to the most of what I can and applied for the FIFA Master Program - the one that has been at the back of my head for almost 5+ years.
I was confident that I had the qualities and appropriate experience to make a good candidature - a well-articulated application, three reference letters, an in-depth interview by the Scientific Committee - there it goes - I was selected from a pool of 700+ applicants from all across the globe to the 22nd edition of the prestigious FIFA Master program.
My journey from National Games to FIFA Master has definitely gone through the roof for me. All along these experiences, I kept learning, growing and enjoying every bit of it.
Today, when everyone is talking about my selection for the FIFA Master Program - breaking stereotypes and being independent - within me, is that curious little girl who was awestruck by the grandeur of sporting events and it's behind the scenes.
Sport is where spirits and passion run high. While this passion is what fuels me to build a career dedicated to it, I’m not in any way alien to the idea of the need for a methodical approach. My engineering background helps me remain curious, organized, and methodical. Also working across multiple industries, I have cultivated a sense of curiosity and intellectual fungibility that helps in adapting and learning quickly.
Growing up in India as the daughter of a single mom, I was constantly faced with challenges, judgments, and setbacks. I have aspired to break the shackles imposed by society on Indian women. I never stopped dreaming of working with global sporting brands knowing it was a long shot, hopefully inspiring little girls all over the country to pick up sport; as a player, manager, or as a passion.
Now that I got selected, the next question was finance. Considering the course is taking place in three countries, three world's top-rated universities, and all the other associated perks - it is as expensive as an Ivy League School MBA. The whole process was like a video game, being selected from a pool of 700+ applicants was level 1 - smooth, securing a merit scholarship that halved my course fees was level 2 - competitive, and then came level 3 - how to fund the rest of the course expense which is around 32,500 CHF (approximately ₹26 lakhs), of which 12,500 CHF (approximately ₹10 lakhs) which is the other half of the course fees + 11 months living expensive in 3 expensive European Countries (UK, Italy & Switzerland) which is estimated as another 20,000 CHF (approximately ₹16 lakhs), and this was super heavy on my pocket.
It’s rare for women from India to get such educational opportunities. here in this case I had a window open and wanted to leverage this master's program, but how? Educational Loan was everyone's answer to it.
But it came out as a "Did you know?" fact to me that in India, you can only apply for an education loan to study abroad only against a mortgage of property or gold, and I had nothing as security.
What next? I chose Crowdfunding. It was my mentor Gautham Chattopadhaya, who works with NASA, who advised me to try this route. I did my fair share of research understanding how educational crowdfunding works in countries like the USA and the UK where it is popular. I weighed my options for a long time and even posted on LinkedIn to get some feedback - many supported the idea, most people wanted to change the way education is looked upon in India especially when it comes to women in the picture, some had similar experiences of being helpless as they couldn’t pursue their dreams owing to financial constraints.
These stories pushed me to gear up for the crowdfunding ride, not anymore a personal need but a social cause to empower dreams and break all stereotypes around crowdfunding - starting with, "IT IS NOT CHARITY" & "I DON'T NEED TO BE HOMELESS & ON THE STREET"
Just like every other basic necessity, education shouldn’t just be a privilege of the few but a fundamental for all. In this case, crowdfunding should be a community-based initiative to help aspiring individuals who can’t afford basic or higher education without an education loan pursue their dream degrees.
Sadly, in India, crowdfunding is mostly restricted to medical emergencies, so a plea to raise money for education falls a little short in comparison to those issues, but nonetheless is no less important.
So then I decided that I ll manage my living expenses by doing some crypto-trading but still needed 10 Lakhs (12500 CHF) for the other 50% of my course tuition fees that had to be paid before end of May 2021. Some of my close friends helped me with 30% of that and for the other 70% I chose to do a fundraiser via Ketto.org.
Students from most middle-class families especially women often have to keep aside their higher education dreams from prestigious western universities inspite of being highly meritorious due to lack of financial aid or the fear of hefty educational loans becoming a burden to their financial independence.
Every contribution to the fundraiser will help me fulfil my dreams, but this is more than just a personal need for me, I would like to pave way for millions of women in my country to crowdfund their educational expenses to pursue their dreams and empower themselves with education in the future. This in turn will motivate the next generation to use the privileges they gain out of such opportunities to give back to their country.
I had decided to give back to the community from the moment I was thrusted into the power of social engineering and that is something I will always honor. As part of the fundraising campaign, I pledged that once I complete my course and land a job, within 3 to 6 months, I will be providing all the contributors of the fundraising campaign with two options - one is to receive back twice the amount of what they lent me or to join me to help a few more girls pursue their educational dreams by deciding to re-donate the amount to the "StartChange.Today" Get Set Go Educational Fund.
A lot of people ask me this one common question "Why the FIFA Master Program?" Oh yes, I have an elaborate answer for that but I have summarized it for you! 🤪
Academic pursuit: I have been working with sports for the last 5 years. Learning on the job and gaining experience are vital for career growth. However, I believe a structured, theoretical approach to the work you do, can enable a seismic shift in the way one approaches their work. This program will give me the shift in perspective that is required in scaling up my skills, knowledge, and competencies.
Global Perspective: I have worked at the grassroots levels with sporting events, organizations, and teams in India. While I have partnered with global representatives of multiple sporting organizations, they have all been in association with the development of the sport in India. Going through this program will help me gain a global outlook regarding the sport and the way in which the sport is managed. I will also benefit from the diverse set of peers I would get to work and engage with while pursuing the program. I am also eager on engaging with the experienced alumni of this program - to learn from and collaborate with.
Personal Alignment: Sports has played a major role in the way my character and personality has evolved. After going through the course curriculum and interacting with several alumni of the program, I have come to appreciate the potential compatibility of the program structure, pedagogy, and syllabus to my personal objectives and aspirations.
Sitting in this classroom today, after an interesting lecture on the History of Sports in Britain, and looking forward to two exciting field visits this weekend - The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park & The Wimbledon - I must tell you, I am happy for myself and all of you out there for living your life the way you love it.
Little did I know that I knew myself more than anyone else out there.
Excited for the future,