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Gandhiji and Football

Today is Bapu's Birthday & we have found out an interesting relationship between him & football.

As you all may know, when Mahatma Gandhi was in South Africa, he was a lawyer. But he was soon distracted from his profession by his growing disgust towards the country laws of racial segregation and a large amount of Indian population facing racial discrimination.

Motivated by the daily injustice, young Bapu started formulating the philosophy of non-violent resistance (which later helped us to get freedom in India).

To appeal to the less fortunate, he needed to cultivate the surroundings. At that time football was the sport for the working-class and lower classes of South African society.

At that time Bapu himself was a football player.

"He was never a serious player himself but seems to have taken the game to heart, above even his first loves of cricket and cycling – perhaps because at the time football was the favourite sport of the less-affluent classes."

Back then, football was still very new in many parts of the world, including South Africa, there was still no big interest in fixed leagues or competitions. Instead, they would just play friendly games in different fields.

Bapu enjoyed the sport. The football pitch set up by him and his colleagues can still be seen at the Phoenix Settlement which is now a heritage site.

In South Africa, he must have quickly realized that football can be a medium for him to bring justice. Gandhiji helped three clubs to get established in South Africa. In Durban, Pretoria, and Johannesburg, all of which afterwards was known as Passive Resisters Soccer Club.

He used football for his fight against discrimination. People say that he would come and talk to teams in the half-time about the principles of non-violent resistance and distribute pamphlets to spectators addressing the issue.

The matches among the Passive Resisters helped fund the families of imprisoned social activists. On one occasion, about a hundred people were wrongfully jailed for campaigning against segregationist laws. The Passive Resisters organized local matches to protest against the unjust jailing of their fellow activists.

Football has always been more than just a sport. And Gandhiji might be the earliest political figure to recognize that. Over the decades, the sport has played a pivotal role in creating the moral of the masses.

By establishing football clubs, he focused on promoting team spirit and fair play. At that time, the idea of team play was much stronger than an individual star player, and this is something that greatly appealed to him. He believed the game had an enormous potential to promote teamwork.

"His organizational skills and drive helped to lay the foundations for the non-racial sporting structures of today’s South Africa,”

said Poobalan Govindasamy (President of the South African Indoor Football Association) he added,

“because it was Gandhi and his contemporaries who did more than anyone else at the time to involve non-whites, and particularly the country’s Indian population, in structured sporting activities.”

Although the Passive Resisters were forced to disband, other football clubs emerged from developing Indian football communities that followed on the path set by him.

Gandhiji's view towards sports, in general, changed drastically as India’s struggle for freedom continued. “To me,” remarked Gandhiji, “a sound body means one which bends itself to the spirit and is always a ready instrument in its service. Such bodies are not made, in my opinion, on the football field. They are made on cornfields and farms.”

Regardless of this change, Bapu’s legacy in South African football during those times should not be overlooked.

He made it clear to all of us that football is more than just a game. And how it can be a medium to bring transformation in societies.


Dear Bapu,

On your birthday, we want you to know that we love you for who you were and what you have done for our country. You have proved to everyone of us that if we want to change the world, we just have to change ourselves.

You are an inspiration for all of us. We hope that as a younger generation, we will bring more and more truthfulness in our societies.

Thank you for setting a beautiful example that with love and kindness anyone can achieve anything.


Inspiration and reference by the article of Fifa and Football Paradise.

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