Pitch perfect

Cricket is giving comfort to Indian and Pakistani immigrants in an increasingly xenophobic Europe

In Rome, the Piazza Vittorio club has been known through its long history to fight racism and segregation through cricket.

On a sunny Tuesday in April, it is harder than usual to order an espresso at Red Court – a restaurant and bar in the Torpignattara neighbourhood of Rome. People are crowded around a television, taking breaks to cheer or tap fervently at the table. In Rome, with its history of football fandom, this is a familiar scene – but the fuss today is for another sport: Bangladesh and India are playing a Test series, and India has won by 208 runs. There is triumph among the smaller Indian groups, sighs of resignation disperse through the Bangladeshis, but soon the bar dissolves into applause as a group of young men walk out triumphantly with cricket bats.

“One day I will also bat like MS Dhoni,” said Arif, 21, a Bangladeshi immigrant in Rome, as he put on his gloves for a match that afternoon. Arif and his team are competing with a rival from a neighbouring district, for which they have paved a pitch on empty space next to the bar. Even though the official cricket season in the city only lasts for five months, through the year, young men planting wickets in old dump yards are not an unusual sight.

In 2007, a large wave of immigrants had arrived in Italy from countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh. Ever since, the South Asian diaspora has grown rapidly through the country, with most immigrants concentrated in large urban sprawls in Rome. A count showed that by 2013, there were 122,000 Bangladeshis living in Italy with high concentration in the capital.

“It is not easy to integrate into another life when you leave your country,” said Sulaiman, a Pakistani immigrant who works as an umpire in Rome. “But it is good to have something you know, something you recognise, a place to go on Sundays.”

Suleiman, arrived in Rome in 2012, and worked many jobs before he began training as an umpire. “I never got the chance in Pakistan, but here, I am part of cricket,” he said.

Like in most countries in the European Union, integrating into mainstream Italian society has not been easy for young immigrants. Language, lifestyle and prevalent racism in the city pose challenges. With unemployment figures in the country as high as 11%, and in Rome at 7.5%, finding work can be a difficult affair. But even as daily schedules are packed to make ends meet, weekends are reserved for cricket.

Cricket season in Italy begins in April and ends in September – most matches take place under the Roman cricket federation. However, young immigrant players find it difficult to enrol with the federation, where bureaucracy runs rife. Delays in paperwork, high costs of certification, the difficulty and expense in getting local teams registered, mean that most immigrants prefer to register with the Unione Italiana Sport Per Tutti, or the Union of Italian sport for all. Here, all teams – informal and formal – are given the right and space to play.

“Sometimes we had people come to us who had just arrived in Italy and wanted to play, sometimes we had refugees,” said Saad Najam, a Pakistani immigrant and seasoned young cricketer. “With UISP, they can get a chance too.”

The UISP looks at sport as a way of claiming citizenship, providing a platform for those without papers to participate in civil engagement with their new cities. The union recognises the contentions that layered European bureaucracy poses for immigrants, and allows players who may not have complete paperwork to play matches.

“It’s a good way for young newcomers into Italy, to make friends, to start realising slowly that our life here too can be okay,” said Ali Ghulam Abbas, a batsman for one of Rome’s main teams, the Roma Capannelle.

The Ghulam Abbas family is one of the oldest cricket families in Rome, and among the first that organised the sport into a formal tradition. Born to Ghulam Abbas, a Pakistani cricketer, the family plays cricket with a near missionary zeal. Ali’s sisters were leaders of the women’s cricket club, which used to play in matches until two years ago.

“There are some very talented young people here,” he said. “They just need some support, and we can have stars, just like in India and Pakistan.”

While cricket spreads swiftly through the South Asian communities in Rome, young cricketer Shince Thomas wants to take it beyond its boundaries. A 21-year-old, Thomas teaches cricket across schools in Rome, hoping that young Italians will catch the fever. Thomas is also trying to revive one of Rome’s oldest cricket clubs – The Piazza Vittorio.

Named after one of Rome’s largest recreational squares, the Piazza Vittorio has been known through its long history to fight racism and segregation through cricket. The team, envisioned by Italian activists Federico Mento and Mercedes Garcia, gave special focus to forming a team of young boys from different backgrounds, to show them a spirit of unity and integration in sport.

Piazza Vittorio has an adult team of players, as well as cricketers under 16 and 13. Thomas has been a part of all three.

“When I moved to Rome from Kerala, India, I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t understand the language or the lifestyle,” he said. “Then one day, I saw the members of Piazza Vittorio playing in a park. I began playing with them and my whole life changed.”

Between 2008 and 2012, the club travelled around Italy and won almost all the matches they played – earning plenty of positive attention. But around 2014, due to a lack of funding and the transition of its best players into their mid or late twenties, the club began to disintegrate. Along with colleague and teammate Fernando Cateddini, Thomas is trying to revive the club, recruit players and organise funding, but this is proving to be hard.

“It’s hard to convince people and bring attention to cricket in football-crazy Italy,” Thomas said. “But it is an important thing, if we let it go, many people will be disappointed. I work a babysitting job along with studying, and also coach children in cricket, but this money is not enough to hire more coaches and organise spaces to play.”

Like his hero Nelson Mandela, Thomas believes sport can change the world. Cricket, he said, was a great way to spread unity and cohesion within both South Asian and Italian communities in Rome.

Jacopo de Bertoldi, a Rome-based filmmaker who has filmed the club for the past four years, recounted his first encounters with the club. “When I began filming the Piazza Vittorio club, I saw this team, in their black and red uniforms, full of immigrants – and it seemed like a movement, like a peaceful protest for a place in society,” he said. “I saw what I hadn’t seen before, that cricket was some sort of political statement. A way to demand space and an identity in a society where it wasn’t easy to have one.”

de Bertoldi is helping Thomas and Fernando raise money to save the Piazza Vittorio club. The team, a mix of Indian immigrants, Italian sportspersons and the filmmaker, is determined that an investment in cricket can give a voice to many.

Gentleman’s game

Cricket clubs in Rome, unlike back home, are not focused on victories or eventual fame. The clubs in the city engender participation and friendly competition. While India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka battle it out for the position of the best team in the world, the cricketers in Rome are quick to tell you that they are playing with and not against one another.

“In India, we grow up hating Pakistanis, and the Pakistani cricket team,” said Thomas. “But here, I have so many colleagues from Pakistan, we don’t play against one another, but with each other. When I travelled to England, I even lived in my Pakistani’s teammates family home. We are one team – and when we think about everyone back home who think that people on the other side of the border are bad, we laugh.”

For the South Asian diaspora in Rome, cricket exists in various forms. It is everywhere, in a ground set up by an Indian businessman outside the city to host matches, in teams of Indians and Pakistanis playing together and in impromptu cricket pitches and soft-ball tournaments in a land far away from home. The impromptu “pitch” is not a space for nationalism or competition, but a way to make the best of the situation.

“It’s wonderful,” said de Bertoldi. “Cricket, a game of the British empire, is taken by the colonies and brought back to Europe as a way of self expression. This comes at a time in Europe where it is much needed.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach

We need solutions that address different aspects of the water eco-system and involve the collective participation of citizens and other stake-holders.

According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.

Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:

Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

Addressing these challenges and improving access to clean water for all needs a combination of short-term and medium-term solutions. It also means involving the community and various stakeholders in implementing the solutions. This is the crux of the recommendations put forth by BASF.

The proposed solutions, based on a study of water issues in cities such as Mumbai, take into account different aspects of water management and distribution. Backed by a close understanding of the cost implications, they can make a difference in tackling urban water challenges. These solutions include:

Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.

Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.

Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.

Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

For BASF, the proposed solutions are an extension of their close engagement with developing water management and water treatment solutions. The products developed specially for waste and drinking water treatment, such as Zetag® ULTRA and Magnafloc® LT, focus on ensuring sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the water and sludge treatment process.

BASF is also associated with operations of Reliance Industries’ desalination plant at Jamnagar in Gujarat.The thermal plant is designed to deliver up to 170,000 cubic meters of processed water per day. The use of inge® ultrafiltration technologies allows a continuous delivery of pre-filtered water at a consistent high-quality level, while the dosage of the Sokalan® PM 15 I protects the desalination plant from scaling. This combination of BASF’s expertise minimises the energy footprint of the plant and secures water supply independent of the seasonal fluctuations. To know more about BASF’s range of sustainable solutions and innovative chemical products for the water industry, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.