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Young journalist Ananya Kamboj journeys from Mohali to St Petersburg to celebrate friendship through Football

“It all started on 24th April 2017 when a poster of FIFA U17 World Cup India 2017 caught my eye on a visit to a Bank of Baroda branch in my neighbourhood. The poster was about a ‘Contest for Young Journalists’ encouraging students to report on Gazprom’s Football for Friendship Championship in Russia. The applicant was to write a cohesive and inspiring story on football in about 200 words, and the last date to submit the essay was 25th April 2017…………………….. Finally I decided to pen down his inspiring story for the contest and submitted it just minutes before the deadline closed.”

This is how the journey of Ananya Kamboj began. The journey that started from the north Indian city of Mohali eventually culminated some 5000 kms away at the colds of St. Petersburg.  

Ananya was born on 6th October 2004 to Pooja and Vikram Kamboj at Mohali. During her early childhood (she is only 13 now), she participated in all sporting activities in school and used to play a lot of Football and Basketball. But her real interest in sports grew in 2014 when her father regularly watched the Football World Cup and Ananya accompanied him to know the nitty-gritty of the game.

Football seemed to her to be simple in comparison to the overtly popular Cricket in Chandigarh.

“It is ninety minutes of pure fun which could sometimes go on to a nail-biting penalty shootout which is probably the most heart-ticking event in any sport. Cricket on the other hand is complex with different formats like Tests, ODIs and T20Is.”

As Football was steadily turning her head, it was also leading Ananya to an unknown territory that she was unaware of. Reading was always her favourite activity and still remains the same. What she did more than that was to effectively produce her knowledge on papers. Thus she became both an avid reader and a writer. So when the opportunity came to write a story on Football and that too in less than 24 hours she did not miss the chance.

“I had the privilege to meet Mr Gurmangal Dass Soni, the Founder of Youth Football Club, Rurka Kalan at Lake Club, Chandigarh. I found Mr Soni’s story fascinating and inspiring who does not look like a film star but is playing an even bigger role in taking Punjab from darkness to light.”

The little curious Ananya blossomed like a matured woman through her essay on Gurmangal Soni. The write-up was accepted by Mission XI Million (MXIM), an initiative spearheaded by the FIFA and All India Football Federation (AIFF). Ananya received an e-mail announcing her selection for representing India as a young journalist in the prestigious Football for Friendship (F4F) social programme. The ambitious program intended to reach out to 11 million school kids in the lead-up to the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017. Vikram Kamboj ecstatically remembers that day, “I’m an avid sports blogger and to see my daughter following in my footsteps was a feeling that I can’t really describe. My baby girl was going to be representing the country as a young journalist all the way in St. Petersburg in Russia.”

It was a cool, rainy welcome for Ananya Kamboj and her teammates at St Petersburg. Her team consisted of 12 year-olds from Armenia, Iceland, Pakistan, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea and Venezuela. They were informed that over the next three days they had to immerse in Football, values, team-building and friendship with eight other teams.

“I have never dreamed of being part of such a big event and not everybody gets an opportunity to learn under the best editors in an atmosphere of trust, professionalism and ethics. A series of workshops on human values and various aspects of journalism like reporting, editing and designing, combined with deadline-based inputs for the F4F helped me think on my feet and develop insights into the world of journalism.”

Ananya covered almost all the aspects that included writing, designing, editing, photography and videography. She contributed five articles for the programme, including a poem, for the daily F4F newsletter. She also anchored the Football for Friendship video digest.

“It was a great learning experience for me and I shall cherish it for a long time to come. This journey brought about a positive transformation, instilling confidence in me – the confidence to address a crowd of over 5,000 people as one of the keynote speakers of the programme. I kept the Indian flag flying high at the F4F social programme! The best part of this programme is that it unites the whole world.”

And so they all united; the unknown teammates whom she met on the first day came to be known to her by names. Sujal, Viktor, Jaka, Mohammad, Jaemin, Adam, Carlos and Edgar- all came under the Friendship camp with jokes, laughters, chants and high-fives. But all good things come to an end. The 3-day programme was over and after a day of local sight-seeing, it was time to be back home.

“The awkward handshakes from the first day were then hugs and wide smiles. Football had built friendships. With a whole bag of chocolates, gifts and memorabilia I said bye to St Petersburg.”

As she returned to Mohali after attending that season of F4F programme, Ananya was encouraged by her father to write down her memories and experiences of the journey. She started the process of writing her book and it took around 9 months to complete the process. The book was ready and the Kamboj family decided to launch it at Moscow.

“It was a big surprise for me, but a memorable one. The world premiere or official launch of my book – My Journey from Mohali to St. Petersburg was done by Viktor Zubkov, Chairman of the Gazprom Board of Directors and Vladimir Serov, Global Director of Football for Friendship in Moscow. I thank Vladimir Serov and his team for having faith in my capabilities and hard work which I had put up in writing this book and spreading the key values of the programme.”

The book launch was attended by 1,500 children accompanied by adults, with around 5,000 guests and participants in total. The event featured boys and girls who were all driven by a common goal: to promote universal human values such as friendship, equality, fairness, health, peace, devotion, victory, traditions, and honour.

The experiences are huge and the memories are fresh. Her friends and teachers at Vivek High School are extremely proud of her. Still Ananya remains the same Class 9 student eager to complete her school works so that she does not lag behind. But at the back of her mind, Ananya has chosen her life and that is to become a journalist. She dreams about giving voice to the people and wants to tell their stories that often go unheard or ignored. The life-changing event at St Petersburg shall always be there for her. It will definitely lead her to farther horizon – the horizon where a peaceful world resides, where harmony exists across all barriers.

About Poulomi Kundu

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  1. Participation in sports creates character, builds character, and reveals character.

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