Elvis Joseph wants “to ensure that all children’s earliest experiences of sport and physical activity are positive and rewarding.” And he extends that concern to children living in slums and prisons, as well as those living with HIV and disabilities.
Two children, Babu Senappa and Manik Prabhu, aged 14 and living with HIV/AIDS, got a chance to participate in the International Children’s Games (Children’s Olympics), held in the Netherlands, in June this year. This is something that had never happened before anywhere in the world, and the members of the Olympics committee were also very excited about it.
The man behind this achievement is Elvis Joseph, who runs a unique organization called the Bangalore Schools Sports Foundation (BSSF).
Elvis is a former athlete who could not pursue his sports career due to some injuries. So he worked in the corporate sector for a while even though his heart remained in sports. While in the US for work, he decided to study sports management and got his degree there.
“I quit my job in the year 2009…I wanted to establish an organization where I specifically work with children, along with schools and parents and private clubs and coaches to professionalise sports at a grassroots level, which is something we don’t have in India. Sports here is seen as a recreational activity but never as a profession in itself….There is no promotion or grooming. And eventually, if you also look at the schools, they charge a sports fee, irrespective of whether the school has a ground, or the children do sports or not. Looking into all these challenges — like how the system is so difficult and the priority for most parents is only education — we formed the Bangalore Schools Sports Foundation, with a very clear vision of wanting to professionalise sport,” says Elvis.
The vision of the foundation is to reach one million children in the country and impact their lives through sports. The aim is to encourage, promote and support sports and healthy lifestyle initiatives for children.
Other than working with schools, which is the mainstream project for BSSF, Elvis is working on several other interesting projects as well.
BSSF organises the Bangalore School Games every alternate year, where more than 3,000 children compete in 12 disciplines.
This one of a kind event has children from amongst the best 250 schools from Bangalore competing under 12 disciplines such as athletics, basketball, football, hockey, judo, golf, tennis, swimming, tennis, volleyball and children’s marathon – in short, a sporting extravaganza for children.
These Games also provide a chance for BSSF to recognize talent that can be groomed further.
International Children’s Games (Children’s Olympics)
“The International Children’s Games have been organized since the last 49 years. They are endorsed by the International Olympic Committee and every certificate is signed by the President of the Committee. The question is, why has India as a country never tried to go there?” questions Elvis.
These games, says Elvis, have a very clear roadmap for athletes. The Children’s Olympics for the age group of 12-15 years take place every year. Countries bid for these Games and they happen just like the Olympics. Following this, there are the Youth Olympics, which happen once in two years, and the Elite Olympics, which happen once in four years.
“So there is a very clear roadmap for a 12-year-old child, till he/she becomes an elite athlete. But there is never any participation in the Children’s Olympics, and barely any in the Youth Olympics; we directly want to participate in the Elite Olympics!”
With the help of the sports minister of Karnataka in 2009, Goolihatti Shekhar, Elvis began to get Bangalore children represented every year in the International Children’s Games. “He said Bangalore city should be a part of the global map. He stood by my vision and said he will support me in this,” remembers Elvis.
The Outreach Programmes
BSSF is “not just about sports; we also believe in going beyond sports,” says Elvis, who is most enthusiastic about the five special projects under his outreach programme:
• Champion in Me: A first-of-its-kind project in the world, this programme deals with sports for children living with AIDS. “The focus here was to eradicate stigma and discrimination through sport as a medium; to empower these kids with the right to play sports; to get them to the mainstream; and to also work on the immune system of the kids. We began with 20 kids, and now we are working with 2000 plus kids across Karnataka.” Every year, on the 1st of December, they have a sports meet exclusively for children with HIV/AIDS. And this year, Elvis has identified two boys who have been performing exceptionally well, who also participated in the Children’s Olympics.
The project has also been identified by UNAIDS, with the help of which Elvis is now looking to expand nationwide.
• Magic Feet: This project reaches out with sports to underprivileged kids who live in slums. “I have been working with these kids for almost four years now. This project was initiated basically to empower these children through football, have them finish school, and also train them in life skills and create opportunities so that they can get jobs in the mainstream. They have great talent. It is an exclusive football project, and we had their team represent us in China last year, where they won the Great Wall Cup of China.”
Elvis is now planning on opening a facility where these kids can come and play, so that they have their own club that does not require them to pay to play sports.
• Invisible Talent: This is a program for children and youth in prisons. “It is conducted inside the Bangalore Central Prisons for the juveniles there. It is all about building their lives back. Some of these kids have been victims of situations, and are not really criminals. We take people from many colleges and corporates inside to play with the kids there and some of the boys who come out of the prison come back and train with us.”
“Many of their lives have changed.”
• Challenged: This one is for the physically challenged kids who want to play sports. “We recently had one of the boys who was a former athlete from school. He was run over by a train and lost both his legs from his waist. We got prosthetic legs made for him…
He is the one guy who is aspiring to run for the country, and when he does, he will be the first bilateral amputee to run for the nation.”
• Survivors: This is a project for tribal children. It is currently taking shape.
Elvis started BSSF with all his savings but now, other than his team of four, he works with many dedicated volunteers. He says he has friends and well-wishers, and parents of children, who help him time and again when larger events need to be organized or international travel is required.
In addition, they reach out to sponsors as well. For example, Mr Koshy Varghese, Managing Director of VDB (Value Designbuild Pvt Ltd.), had funded the complete journey for the two HIV positive boys. And Dr Ken Gnanakan, Chancellor & Founder ACTS Group of Institutions, had supported the food and accommodation cost for the team to reach Netherlands for this year’s Children’s Olympics
To know more about the Foundation and contribute to their efforts, you can visit the website.