Kashmir's Foreign Soccer Coach Gets Death Threat27 March 2011
Times of India
Srinagar: For four years, Argentina-born Juan Marcos Troia has battled all odds in his mission to teach football to Kashmiri youth and channelize their energies away from violence. He has brushed aside visa problems, an indifferent state government and even the killing of his two dogs. But now, after receiving death threats, the celebrated coach is thinking hard about packing his bags for good. Marcos, as he is popularly called, has been credited with popularizing the sport in Kashmir and giving 'stone-pelting' youths a dream of making it big on the football field. In the process, Marcos - who now identifies with Brazil where he trained and got sponsors for the project - seems to have upset many vested interests in the Valley. 'I have had no support from the state government beyond promises but things are now more serious. Last Friday I got a midnight call from someone who identified himself as a local politician's son. He said I should leave the state within four days, 'otherwise you know what will happen',' Marcos said. Marcos met Union sports minister Ajay Maken during Maken's tour of Srinagar and has been assured of the Centre's support. But living in the strife-torn state with his wife and three daughters with a life threat dangling over his head is not easy, says he. Marcos wants 'some sort of agreement' within a month that would take care of his security as well funds and proper infrastructure to run his academy - the International Football Academy Trust (ISAT), which incidentally was the subject of a documentary, Inshallah Football. If these aren't forthcoming, says Marcos, it would be difficult for him to continue. After the threatening call, Marcos went straight to the police and gave them the telephone number. But a week has gone by and nothing happened,' Marcos says, surrounded by his 'boys' still cracking jokes with the coach about how long his academy will last now that he is openly talking about the hostility, but the tension is palpable. This was not the family's first brush with violence. In January, while Marcos was away for a tournament, unidentified men entered his house for two consecutive days, ransacked his drawing room and killed his two dogs. 'I went to the police station with one of my boys. They refused to lodge an FIR and two months later, I have not even got the post mortem report,' says Marcos. Despite repeated attempts and text messages, J&K sports minister R S Chib could not be reached for comments. After meeting the coach, sports minister Maken said, 'We got to know about Marcos's work and the problems he is facing and contacted him. I plan to take up the issue of both infrastructure and security with the state government and the home minister. We will provide him with all the support he needs.' Marcos understands the importance of sports in weaning youth away from violence. His meticulously prepared presentation on his plans for football in the Valley includes talking to youth about their problems as one of the functions of his academy. His team's former captain, Basharat, is the son of a former militant. The threats, Marcos and his wife feel, may have been because their work has hurt 'vested interests'. They refused to speculate on whether these included the state's football administration. Till now, the funding from Brazil has meant Marcos's students do not have to pay either for the coaching or the equipment. But the team practices in half a ground, where too they have to fight for space with another group. 'Before we came here, they (the other group) were the ones running the football coaching scene,' his wife Priscilla explains, before being interrupted by Wasim Khan, the young captain of Marcos's ISAT team. 'They never gave regular coaching, just organized a few tournaments here and there,' Wasim says. 'We showed them football can happen without a lot of money and even when there is hardly any infrastructure support. That has broken the nexus here,' Priscilla says. The couple has even been accused of converting people to Christianity. 'It is a close-knit society and allegations like these can really antagonize people,' says Marcos. 'I want to stay here and work but if I do not have some agreement in my hand within the next month, I do not know what will happen because after four years of supporting us, even my Brazilian sponsors are now getting impatient,' he adds.