Football provides therapy for drug addicts in cricket-crazy India

NEW DELHI, July 29, 2006 (AFP) – A frail-looking man named Diosiam jogs on to a football field in an upmarket New Delhi suburb, followed by a band of keen-looking players — all of them ex-drug addicts or living with HIV/AIDS. They warm up on the slushy field as a small crowd gathers to see them in action, not a common sight in a country besotted by cricket.

But football is now being used as a therapy for those trying to put their lives together after years of drug abuse or who have been sidelined by society due to their being infected by the HIV virus.

“Football has turned out to be one of our major successes … in helping bring people back on track,” says Shantanu Chowdhury, 46, a programme manager with non-governmental organisation Sahara which operates a treatment centre here.

“The game helps our inmates not only to gain fitness but also acts as an instrument of empowerment. It has helped them boost their morale and lead a healthy life,” says Chowdhury, an ex-drug addict who has been working with the organisation for nine years.

Some 200 people are at any one time involved in various therapy programmes run for the past 28 years by Sahara in the south Delhi suburb of Greater Kailash, according to Chowdhury.