Think when you were 13 years old. You had just entered your teens, were navigating through school, preparing hard for tests and playing with friends. Being part of a global friendship initiative was perhaps not part of your plans.
But that’s exactly why Ananya Kamboj is different.
As an eighth-grade student in 2017, Kamboj wrote an essay about how football fosters friendships for ‘Mission XI Million’, a campaign run by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to popularise football in India when the country hosted the FIFA U-17 Men’s World Cup that year.
Kamboj’s essay was judged the best of the lot and she gained entry to Football for Friendship (F4F) as a ‘Young Journalist’.
F4F is an initiative started by Russia-based Gazprom International in 2013 to promote nine universal human values: friendship, equality, fairness, health, peace, devotion, victory, traditions, and honour.
Like most good things in life, the opportunity to be a part of the global initiative arrived by chance for Ananya Kamboj.
“I came across the poster for Mission XI Million at the market and I had an idea to write an interesting story about how a football match fostered better friendship between Iran and the USA,” Ananya Kamboj said in a chat with the Olympic Channel.
The heart-warming story turned out to be Kamboj’s ticket to the F4F in 2017, where as a ‘young journalist’ she got to write reports about football matches along with kids her age from several different countries in St. Petersburg, Russia.
It was a dream opportunity for a keen fan like Kamboj, who played football at school and for her local club Punjab FC. She is a Lionel Messi fan and supports German club FC Schalke.
“The experience was fantastic. I made new friends from multiple countries, learnt about their culture and traditions, and also learnt a lot about football,” stated Kamboj.
At just 16, Ananya Kamboj is also a published author, having written her maiden book ‘My Journey from Mohali to St. Petersburg’, a collection of 21 stories from her experiences in Russia, which was launched at the 2018 FIFA Men’s World Cup.
“When I returned home to Mohali after my first F4F (in 2017), my father (Vikram Kamboj) encouraged me to pen down what each of the nine values meant to me,” the teenager said.
“The book is about my experiences and also stuff about political relations and how they are improved through football and the nine values that enable it to happen.”
Since her first experience in 2017, Ananya Kamboj has been part of F4F for four years now.
In the 2020 edition, she was part of the International Expert Council as a ‘Global Young Ambassador’ and evaluated projects by over 100 football academies from across the world to support and train young athletes.
This year, her 10-year-old sister Aahana Kamboj was also involved with F4F as she was selected as a young journalist for the programme.
Ananya Kamboj may be a global ambassador for what football stands for, but she is also equally keen to use the power of sport back home in India.
‘Sports to Lead’
Now an 11th-grade student studying in Mohali, Punjab, Ananya Kamboj juggles her studies - she wants to become a professional journalist - with a social initiative close to her heart called ‘Sports to Lead’.
The project, which will be launched by February or March next year, will aim at women empowerment through sports.
“I want to help women realise their potential through this initiative. I have observed that women in our country do not get equal opportunity as the men, be it in sports or education,” said Kamboj.
“I want to improve their quality of life and hopefully bridge the gender gap in terms of discrimination and equal opportunity through Sports to Lead.”
The initiative will organise sessions in leadership training and life skills for young girls and women through classroom sessions and virtual online workshops.
“I do believe that sports will be a viable career option for women in the country and they will have a good future through sport,” concluded Ananya Kamboj.
Lead Photo: Ananya Kamboj/Twitter