Real Kashmir’s new signing Kashif Siddiqi uses football to give peace a chance
If the coronavirus has left a hole in Kashif Siddiqi’s life, it is not because sport has come to a standstill but that it has forced his recovery from injury into DIY mode.
“It is a bit crazy because we are in lockdown,” says the British footballer who has joined Real Kashmir FC, placed fourth in the 2019-20 I-League, on loan from Oxford United.
“I have a gym at home. I am following what I was doing previously but now I have to do it on my own. Since I had ruptured by Achilles tendon, I need a lot of ultrasound and infra-red treatment and I can’t do it,” says Siddiqi, 34, over the phone from his home in Stratford-upon-Avon, around an hour’s drive from Oxford.
The difference between the shutdown in England and India, says Siddiqi, is that you are allowed to go out once every day for exercise while maintaining social distancing norms. “It is possible it will get stricter next week. We haven’t reached the peak yet.”
A string of injuries contributed to a career which began at Arsenal’s youth team and continued in the USA while he worked on a MBA never taking off beyond a senior international for Pakistan in 2008. “It could have been India as they were also looking for South Asians in Europe but I would have had to give up British citizenship,” says the full back who can also play in midfield.
So Siddiqi uses football to ask the planet to give peace a chance and raise gender equality. It was an idea spurred by what his Ugandan-born mother had to go through during Idi Amin’s reign. “She came to England as a refugee,” he says. Siddiqi’s father is an Indian from Lucknow.
In 2011, he set up the Kashif Siddiqi Foundation to help increase the presence of British South Asians in football. Two years later, Siddiqi co-founded Football For Peace (FFP) with Fifa Legend Elias Figueroa, a three-time South America Footballer of The Year and a defender with Chile in three World Cups (1966, 1974 and 1982). FFP works with 6000 children in England alone; Pele is a charity ambassador.
Siddiqi’s other job has taken him to Afghanistan, meet football legend George Weah as president of Liberia --- a country wracked by civil wars --- members of the royal family in Britain, Monaco and Jordan and Pope Francis in The Vatican; win awards for humanitarian work; involve footballers such as Mesut Oezil and Bacary Sagna in his projects; share the stage with British marathon legend Paula Radcliffe and play five-a-side football with Usain Bolt.
“Football touches 3.5 billion people and that power can be galvanised in such a strong way.” That, Siddiqi says, is not happening in the aftermath of Covid-19 pandemic.
Responsibility shrugged off?
“The football world has a responsibility but its contribution at this stage is minimal. The reactiveness of the football world has been ridiculous. Fifa, FifPro (players’ world body) and other organisations should have been in sync. (But) Different people are saying different things like they would in a terror attack,” he says.
“Yes, people who have played are giving some money here, donating. (But) As a collective, I think, football federations, governing bodies can come together and do a lot more.”
Fifa, which had cash reserves of over $2.7 billion in 2018, has contributed $10 million (Rs 76 crore approximately) to World Health Organisation’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. BCCI, the Indian cricket board, alone has pledged Rs 51 crore to PM-CARES, a relief fund specific to Covid-19 in India.
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, who has been ahead of the curve with charity work, has said: “I think there have been plenty of occasions, for me personally, where we have tried to help but we have not helped in the best way possible.”
Footballers in the cash-rich Premiership have formed a charity fund to help Britain’s National Health Service and Southampton’s players, coaching staff and directors have agreed to defer wages till June. But Tottenham Hotspur, which posted profits of nearly 70 million pound last year, have imposed a 20% pay cut and sought government help to pay salaries of non-playing staff.
“Definitely don’t agree with furlough for top line football clubs. That means we are looking after players but not (non-playing) staff. It is a team environment, if one goes, everyone has to go. Can’t isolate,” says Siddiqi.
Britain being forced indoors, however, has “arm-twisted” an FFP programme in London involving 3000 children to migrate to a digital platform. “Through football we are trying to talk about equality and social justice to youth who have had a past in dealing with drugs and crime.
“At a time of isolation and lack of mental activity, we can engage children on the importance of health, nutrition and mental well-being through football. That aspect of the game is very important,” he says.
Siddiqi was to join Real Kashmir before the 2019-20 I-League but got injured two days before he was due to fly out. He won’t be ready before next season but says the move, “made sense at so many levels.”
“This team gets young boys, girls, old women, ordinary people, the police and the military --- with whom ordinary people often have a difficult relationship --- together for 90 minutes. This team gives people hope. That is football for peace.”