Reena Panchal was last year’s captain for the India Woman’s Team. Her passion and skill earned her the award for best female player in the tournament to her team’s delight. The young Indian captain however, wasn’t always boasting about her love for football. Not long before the Amsterdam tournament, Reena was forced to hide her love for the game. “Football is not a girls game,” she was repeatedly reminded. Thankfully, her coaches at Slum Soccer helped Reena and her family through a process of acceptance and encouragement.
Now, eight months after the tournament, Reena says that something has changed in her life:
“A few months ago, I was at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam returning back to India from the Homeless World Cup 2015. The time spent at the airport was very painful as I was recollecting memories of the past week and eventually starting to learn that my dream run had come to an end.
“To my surprise, I was totally wrong. As sweet as it gets to meet your parents and see your home, the feeling was even better. The people I knew had changed in a week and, to be frank, exactly on my arrival. I was honoured and felicitated in my village by the heads and elders. My father who was known as ‘Mr. Panchal’ before, is now known as ‘Reena’s Father.’ My family, who supported me before the Homeless World Cup with a little doubt, now believes that I was the best player in the tournament and supports me a hundred times more now.
“Girls from my village have broken all barriers and superstitions and have started playing football. Not only do they play, but they are competing well. They look up to me as their inspiration and motivation. The Panchal Society, who once believed girls are better in a house than on a playground, appreciated my effort publicly and inspired a many other future Reenas in the crowd. My friends like to show off that they are friends with the Indian women’s team captain. It is then that I realized I was wrong, once again! People hadn’t changed, Reena had! The Reena who stepped into Amsterdam was not the same stepping out of Amsterdam.
“While departing from Amsterdam, in my suitcase I now carried a huge fan based following from around the world. I hold values such as sportsmanship, leadership, women’s empowerment, and a few critics and haters as well. But most importantly, I have now realized the importance of football in my life and understand that ‘This Game Is Real.’”
Reena’s transformation – and that of her peers at home – is just one example of the many ways in which the Homeless World Cup, through it’s vast network of National Partners, have helped women across the globe find their voice and power to change their lives for the better.