India at the FIFA World Cup might be a long shot at this point but a couple of Indian kids got to live a dream by being the Official Match Ball Carriers (OMBCs) at the ongoing mega-event here.
Selected after a nationwide talent hunt by automobile giant Kia Motors, one of FIFAs official World Cup partners, 11-year-old Nathania John and 10-year-old Rishi Tej became India’s first set of official match ball carriers.
While Nathania led the likes of Neymar and Phillipe Coutinho out with the match ball in her hands during the Brazil-Costa Rica clash in St Petersburg, Rishitej had his moment during the Belgium-Panama group stage match which featured stars such as Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku among others.
“I am so thankful to football, it is the sweetest thing to have ever happened to me. It’s bigger than a game, for me, football is life,” Rishitej said.
“I was a little nervous that day because this was a lifetime opportunity,” he spoke about his experience at what is popularly called the ‘greatest show on earth’.
“Not everyone gets this chance. To be here meant the world to me,” added Nathania who wants to spend the rest of her life playing the ‘beautiful game’.
The initiative was launched on April 10 in India, inviting footballers in the age-group of 10 to 14, to showcase their skills and win a chance to go to Russia.
It had Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri personally monitoring the selection process and the final choices were made from a shortlist of 50 children.
The kids were required to demonstrate dribbling, juggling and shooting skills i the contest and also had to answer a set of questions to break through.
A total of 64 children from across the world are selected to be Official Match Ball Carriers.
“This is just the beginning of Kia’s association with big-ticket sporting events. Our next initiative would probably be the Australian Open where we will try to send kids as official ball collectors on the court,” Manohar Bhat, Kia’s head of sales and marketing, said.
The company renewed its long-standing association with the season’s first Grand Slam earlier this year for a period of five years.