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Indian father, Ugandan mother - meet South Asia’s footballing peacemaker

Indian father, Ugandan mother - meet South Asia’s footballing peacemaker

Sayan Chatterjee

Published: 12 Feb 2021 8:06 AM GMT

Kashif Siddiqui is a man of many talents. The 35-year-old British citizen co-founded ‘Football for Peace’ (FFP) in 2013, a charitable initiative that promotes conflict resolution through football and dialogue and falls under FIFA’s aegis. Having spent his formative years at Arsenal and Wycombe Wanderers, Siddiqui has been sort of a footballing nomad and has been a huge draw in terms of spreading the message of peace through the beautiful game. His most recent foray? Real Kashmir in the I-League.


Early Career

After playing youth football for Arsenal, Wycombe Wanderers, Hayes and Yeading, Siddiqui moved to the United States on a scholarship and continued playing club football. Then in 2009, he signed for the USL Premier Development League (PDL) side Springfield Demize. Thereafter, he played for Fresno Fuego in the PDL before moving to the middle-east to play for Al-Wasi in Dubai. This is when a number of injuries stagnated his growth as a player, forcing him to move back to the PDL with Ventura County Fusion. Upon his return to England, he signed for Football League outfit Northampton Town in 2013. It was around this time that he initiated FFP’s international foray alongside Chilean legend Elias Figueroa. He also had his own charity, the Kashif Siddiqui Foundation, which focused on increasing the participation of British Asians in association football and worked closely with the English Football Association.

A British Indian, playing for Pakistan?

Although Siddiqui’s father hails from Lucknow, playing for India was never a feasible option for him. “The Indian side wanted me to give up my British citizenship and I did not want that as my mother had struggled so hard for that. This citizenship means my mother’s blessing to me,” Siddiqi had said previously. He went on to represent the Pakistan U-23 side as an overseas British South Asian player in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Qualifiers. He was later called up to the senior side for the SAFF Championships, 12 years before he would return to the war-torn area of Kashmir with a message of peace and unity.


Signing for Real Kashmir

In 2019, Siddiqui signed for Oxford United in England in a player cum ambassador role. He was then loaned to I-League newbies Real Kashmir FC as part of a collaboration between the two clubs. What governed his decision to take this plunge was the ambition to bring about a positive change in the valley through FFP. “Soft power is about creating dialogues through initiatives, other than war and conflict. If you look at what football can do, it can really transcend religion and culture. Playing football cuts through culture, political values, foreign policies, and the most important thing is that it creates dialogue through a different means,” he had famously said. Although it was the start of a potentially exciting chapter in his life, an achilles injury scuppered his plans of making any substantial contribution towards the team’s cause. He is currently back in England and focused on his charity and its myriad projects.

A big reason why Siddiqui is so passionate about bridging boundaries through football is because of the struggles that his mother had to overcome when she left her homeland for Europe. Through sports diplomacy, he believes a lot of the world’s issues can be resolved. Throughout his career, he has been bestowed with multiple awards for his philanthropic work. However, his biggest moment of reckoning came when he was invited to speak at the 74th United Nations General Assembly along with several other diplomats from around the world. Not too shabby for a ‘footballer’, the privileged bunch who are just overpaid athletes living in their own bubble according to some.

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