Olympics Begin In
Begin typing your search above and press return to search.


How Mahatma Gandhi formed the first Indian football association in South Africa

How Mahatma Gandhi formed the first Indian football association in South Africa

Sohinee Basu

Published: 2 Oct 2020 2:42 AM GMT

"In a gentle way, you can shake the world." ~ Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

It may seem so that our dusty history books of yore have done their bit to illuminate us about the great figure of Mahatma Gandhi — the lawyer, the anti-colonial resistance leader, the political campaigner, all of which contribute to perfecting his image as the Father of the Nation.

But we might have to rethink here and scour through the abandoned pages of history to assuringly stumble on facts that will surprise us. Unknown to popular culture, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was also a football aficionado and greatly responsible for shaping the Transvaal Indian Football Association in 1896, the first 'organized football association' that was run by non-whites, during his stay at South Africa as a practicing lawyer.

Also Read: Nagendra Prasad — The father of Indian football who removed prejudice from the sport

Mahatma Gandhi had familiarised himself with the sport and its unifying powers while he was studying law in London. The year was 1893 when the 23-year-old Mohandas stepped onto South African soil, which become a pivotal place for determining the rest of his career trajectory. It was in the Rainbow nation that Gandhi picked up the urge and the tools to foster the spirit of nationalism while on a case for a firm called Dada Abdulla & Company in the erstwhile British colony. Shocked to see the plight of the Indians living there and the sheer injustice doled out by the British colonizers, forced Gandhi to adopt a rare sensibility towards the poor, oppressed and down-trodden.

Long before his dalliance with the Indian Independence Movement, Gandhi was busy agitating the cause for the non-white people in South Africa who were stringently abused by the British men, out on their quest to fulfill the 'White Man's Burden'. It was here in South Africa that Gandhi conceptualized the stratagem of passive resistance and began the practice of Satyagraha. This is where the role of football comes in ploy when Gandhiji decided to focus on using football as an effective tool that would fester the team-spirit and give him the opportunity to spread the word about the Non-Violent Resistance movement against the British.

Although there are no reports of Mahatma Gandhi himself being a great footballer, the political leader par excellence used his acumen to found three football clubs in South Africa. Choosing the cities of Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Durban to establish the 'Passive Resisters Soccer Club' along with a few mostly Indian men, Gandhi used the pull of football matches to fight the oppression of racial discrimination in South Africa.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

A young Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in South Africa (Image: Times of India)

Additionally, The Transvaal Indian Football Association and the Klip River District Indian Football Association were set up owing to Gandhi and his colleagues. Soon after, the South African Association of Hindu Football was founded in 1903 and heralded a fresh chapter in South African sporting history, especially in the field of 'organized' football.

Football being an inexpensive sport enjoyed raging popularity among the less fortunate, owing to the team-playing method and goes a long way in showing what actual team spirit is. In South Africa as well, the football matches became the assembly point of the less well-off, mostly Indians and other, Africans as they used this opportunity to holler their lungs out, in feisty support of the game.

It was this audience that Gandhi had targeted, it was this audience that faced the most trouble under the dominance of the British settlers. Gandhi was closely associated with the working of the Passive Resisters Soccer Club and would use the matches to spread the word about Satyagraha and insisted on Civil Disobedience against the oppressors. There are pieces of evidence and accounts of Gandhi giving passionate speeches to inspire the down-trodden, becoming the figure of a Messiah for them. The great pacificist leader also used the guise of the football matches to distribute pamphlets to make people aware and rouse their political awakening and invite them to join the resistance.

There was another side to the football matches which Gandhi harped upon. The matches conducted among the Passive Resisters served as fundraisers and helped to fund the families of imprisoned social activists. The matches were held in protest of the unjust arrests of their fellow activist friends and acquaintances who campaigned against the incorrigible segregationist laws. Gandhi was the true helmsman during such events and he and his colleagues even established the football pitch at Phoenix which is considered to be a heritage venue now.

The first proper football team from South Africa, Christopher's Contingent were heavily indebted to the great leader for laying down the first bricks of football in their nation. In 1914, once Gandhi made the shift to his Motherland, his ties with the sport withered off seemingly. Although, when Christopher's Contingent arrived in India for a 14-match series, Gandhi was present with them for the most part. Despite that, his views on sports and football suffered a radical change of sorts as he was deeply disturbed by the plight of his countrymen.

Thrown into despair at seeing the languid attitude some Indians possessed, Gandhi had vehemently penned, "Our colonial-born Indians are carried away with this football and cricket mania. These games may have their place under certain circumstances. But I feel sure that for us, who are just now so fallen, they have no room.” Choosing to focus his energy exclusively on gaining Independence from the British, Gandhi urged everyone to walk on his trodden path and pick up the tools of Satyagraha.

Several decades have elapsed since the great political leader breathed his last following his assassination by Nathuram Godse on 30th January 1948, but his principles of Ahimsa and Non-Violence continue to throb till date, inspiring generations.

Next Story