Mumbai Schools Sports Association's (MSSA) U-16 boys' Division I inter-school football tournament this year will feature only 15 teams instead of 16 after a newly-promoted side, St Xavier's (Bhandup), decided to cease their footballing activities.
Stunned and heartbroken
The move has stunned parents, coaches and even MSSA president Fr Jude Rodrigues. Division I is the elite division of inter-school football with only the top 16 sides from the city making the cut.
The Bhandup school's coach Akash Sharma lashed out at the school's authorities for taking such a step. "The management has decided to stop all football-related activities this year without even giving us a reason. The children are really sad and have been calling me to convince the higher-ups to grant us permission to play.
The decision has let all our efforts of four years go in vain," said Sharma, whose side was playing in Division IV in 2011. Last season, the Bhandup school reached the semis of the District Sports Office U-17 tourney.
Fr Rodrigues, who is also the MSSA's football secretary, said, "I am surprised with the school's decision to pull out of the tournament as this (withdrawal from Division I) has never happened before in the last decade. When I spoke to St Xavier's principal (Fr Simon Lopez), he initially agreed to field a team. It came in as a rude shock when they pulled out in the last minute."
Fr Lopez was unavailable for comment. A parent, on condition of anonymity, said that the school's decision has left them feeling helpless. "Fr Lopez fails to understand that sports play an important role in the overall development of a student. His decision has left kids disheartened. A few parents tried to set up a meeting with the new principal but he doesn't seem to be interested," the parent lamented.
If the school does decide to play in Division I, it must do so before the season begins on July 20 because as per the school sports body's rulebook, if the Bhandup school fields a team after the season starts, they will have to play in Division IV.