Bharti Airtel, a leading global telecommunications company with operations in 20 countries across Asia and Africa, yesterday announced the kick off of ‘Airtel Rising Stars’ (ARS) in Sri Lanka – a first-of-its-kind island-wide hunt for young and talented soccer football players.
Launched in association with Manchester United (one of the best soccer clubs in the world), ‘Airtel Rising Stars’ is a rigorous scouting program which over the span of the next 1 month will cover 14 centers across Sri Lanka and choose the final 12 talented footballers who will get the chance-of-a-lifetime to attend a week long training camp with Manchester United in Old Trafford, England. The ARS initiative will be hosted with the endorsement of His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa (President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka) and in support from Tharunyata Hetak as well as Football Federation of Sri Lanka.
This was announced earlier today at Cinnamon Grand Hotel in Colombo in the presence of Namal Rajapaksa (MP and Chairman, Tharunyata Hetak), Manilal Fernando (President of the Football Federation of Sri Lanka & FIFA Executive Member), Bharat Bambawale (Global Brand Director, Bharti Airtel), Suren Goonewardene (CEO & MD – Bharti Airtel Lanka) and Dwight Yorke (Manchester United Football Legend).
Commenting on the initiative, Bharti Airtel Lanka CEO and Managing Director Suren Goonewardene said: “We are delighted to launch Airtel Rising Stars as the next stage of Manchester United-Airtel’s alliance which continues to work towards brining football followers in Sri Lanka closer to their favourite game. With this unique programme, we look forward to finding the best of young football talent in Sri Lanka and giving them the chance of becoming a part of the global soccer scene by training with the very best. We are humbled to have the support of His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa (President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka) and youth organization Tharunyata Hetak for this initiative and are confident that this platform will inspire thousands of talented footballers to become professional players.”
The Airtel Rising Stars programme will be held in 3 rounds conducted over a span of 1 month at the end of which the top 12 players between the ages of 15-20 will be chosen. Stage 1 will involve an all island talent scout across 14 centers (Jaffna, Colombo, Mannar, Anuradhapura, Trincomalee, Badulla, Kurunegala, Hatton, Kandy, Kalutara, Matara, Negombo and Kalmunai). Stage 2 will narrow the applicants down to 48 shortlisted players who will assemble in Colombo where Manchester United Academy Coaches will host an intensive football camp. The final stage will involve 3 selection trials culminating in a final where the final 12 football players will be chosen as the Top 12 Sri Lankan Airtel Rising Stars who will be sent to train at the Manchester United Football Academy in England.
The Football Federation of Sri Lanka and Tharunyata Hetak as key supporters and logistical partners of the Airtel Rising Stars program will use their football touch points across Sri Lanka to facilitate the roll out of the program.
Speaking at the event, Namal Rajapaksa, MP and Chairman, Tharunyata Hetak said, “Football, ‘the sport of the people’, in Sri Lanka has experienced exponential growth on the local and regional fronts. This sort of exposure gives the sport a global frontier which is not only a first for international sporting alliances in Sri Lanka but a first to be brought to our country by a corporate citizen. My dream for youth in Sri Lanka is to enhance the growth of the sports they love by facilitating and hosting more tournaments, using legacy and mentor programs to impart skills and knowledge to a wider populace thus further casting the net for more sporting youth talent. The complexity of football is its simplicity. All you need is a ball and some willing players and you have a game. Football is one true global sport and we are honored to welcome Manchester United to Sri Lanka with Airtel to promote it. Legends such as George Best, Bryan Robson, David Beckham and Dwight Yorke have run along the grass at Old Trafford, inspiring millions of people around the world to work hard at whatever they do. Football brings youth together – youth from different communities and backgrounds can run on a pitch and bond over a single goal. I would like to thank Airtel and Manchester United for promoting this initiative and I look forward to seeing how Sri Lankan players fair at Old Trafford.”
Manilal Fernando, President, Football Federation of Sri Lanka and FIFA Executive Member endorsed the initiative and added, “The Airtel Rising Stars talent hunt programme will involve nearly 10,000 young footballers island wide and I am grateful to Airtel for providing Sri Lankan youth with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Football is the world’s No. 1 sport with participation from over 300 million players in 207 countries governed by FIFA. As an Executive Committee Member of FIFA, I am excited for the 12 Airtel Rising Stars who will ultimately win a visit to the Manchester United Football Academy sponsored by Airtel. It will be a dream for young footballers not only in Sri Lanka but around the world too. The Football Federation of Sri
Lanka is geared to take up the challenge to assist the Manchester United Technical Staff in selecting the best 12 players by screening from over an anticipated 10,000 players island wide, thus creating equal opportunity for all talented players to participate and win. This Airtel initiative with its partnership of Tharunyata Hetak headed by Hon. Namal Rajapaksa, MP will create history as one of the most exciting sports programmes ever conducted in Sri Lanka and will enhance the brand of Football by creating exposure for the game in the hearts and minds of the football family of Sri Lanka. As for FIFA’s mission – Play the game better, take it to the world and make world a better place to live.”
Manchester United’s Associate Relationship Director, Ricki Thussu said; “We were very pleased to associate with the ‘Airtel Rising Stars’ programme in Sri Lanka and look forward to working closely with a number of extremely talented players. The programme is one of the largest of its kind here and it is a great opportunity for us to work with these talented players in order to coach them on how to play the Manchester United way.”
Earlier this year, Bharti Airtel Lanka (Pvt) Ltd had announced its tie-up with Manchester United to bring a variety of benefits for Airtel’s football loving customers. The Airtel Rising Stars program is an extension of this long term association between brand Airtel and Manchester United.