Addressing mental health: Bengaluru FC ensures that care is around the corner

Indian Super League team Bengaluru FC is taking conscious steps to address the mental health side of professional sports with their latest initiative.

By Naveen Peter

For a team that’s made winning a habit in its short yet storied history, the 2020-21 season of the Indian Super League (ISL) has been quite different for Bengaluru FC

After 14 matches in ISL 2020-21, Bengaluru FC are placed eighth on the points table, have parted ways with their head coach Carles Cuadrat and have failed to win any of their last eight matches.

And if the toll of being in a bio-bubble for about five months wasn’t enough, the poor run of form has just added to this stress and mental exhaustion, according to senior goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

It’s why Bengaluru FC have already put together a programme to help their players and staff to deal with the change. 

Aptly named Care Around the Corner, the programme aims at providing the team members with mental health support, a first in Indian football.

“I was reading ‘A Life too Short’, it’s Robert Enke’s (former German goalkeeper) biography. He was battling depression after his dad passed away and was taking help too. But then in 2009, Robert jumped in front of a train,”  Bengaluru FC’s media manager Kunaal Majgaonkar, the brain behind the initiative, told the Olympic Channel.

“At one stage, he was Germany’s best. Played for teams like Barcelona and Benfica. Spent most of his time at Hoffenheim. This is a story I knew about all the while. And then when I was reading the book, it didn’t feel like he would take his life. I was like, ‘How can this guy die? He can’t die?’ Because he’s got this entire support system around him.

Bengaluru FC have endured their worst run in ISL this season. Photo: ISL Media

“That got me thinking. If someone with so much help, fame and money can succumb, this can happen to anyone. I put the book down and called up Mandar (Tamhane, the club’s CEO) asking him if we could introduce a programme to help the boys. And Mandar didn’t take more than a second to say yes.”

Support from Rangers FC

Launched in October last year, Care Around the Corner aims at facilitating help for the Bengaluru FC players and staff whenever they need it. Bengaluru FC is also taking the help of their partners Rangers FC in Scotland for this programme.

“Mental health is not about ‘sports psychology’ alone. It is one small section that can be part of mental health. I thought we as a club should explore and work on it,” BFC CEO Mandar Tamhane said.

“We started speaking to a lot of people. We spoke to the Rangers FC which has a vertical called the Players Care Department where mental health becomes a part of the player care. We spoke to their professionals as to how they do it, how they manage. We got a lot of intel on this. We got a lot of understanding of it. And have tried to adapt to the Indian conditions.”

While the team doesn’t have a mental health practitioner with them inside the bio-bubble in Goa, regular virtual sessions and one-on-one support are made available whenever needed. There are also sessions conducted by mental health experts to create awareness.

“These problems become very private and confidential between the professional and the individual which we as a club cannot be involved in,” Majgaonkar stressed. “For us, it's all about facilitating at this point in time.”