CUPID CLAIMS RISING STAR

MEMORIES: Avrhisto will remain in the memories of Goan football fans for his beautiful play and the passion he brought to the game he loved so much

Numerous studies have shown that exercise is associated with reduced depression and success in sport leads individuals to be more confident. However, the recent death of an upcoming Goan footballer shows that anyone can fall prey to depression at any time. The increasing prevalence of suicide in Goan society has to be tackled before we lose more bright stars

By Ashley Rosario

ANDRE Escobar was shot dead by hitmen. His crime:  He scored the own goal that eliminated Colombia from the 1994 World Cup. The tragedy  haunts fans of football in the South American country, to this day.

Here in Goa a tragedy that hit football recently is more likely to haunt fans for similarly long years hence — the suicide of Avhristo Fernandes, 21, arguably the brightest prospect in a star-starved Goan football arena.

Goa was painted as one big party on January 1, 2018. Well it was and it wasn’t, with the partying hit by news of Avrhisto’s suicide emerging since dawn.

In fact Avhristo himself was partying with a group of friends after attending midnight mass. But that moment of weakness which drove Avrhisto home to  hang himself to death in his bedroom extinguished in a flash hopes of a ‘Bruno Coutinho’ or ‘Alvito D’Cunha’ re-incarnation harboured by Goan  footballers, coaches, club owners, administrators and fans of the beautiful game.

YOUNG TALENT

AVHRISTO was all of 21 years. In a period of 10-odd years, he had honed his football skills in school competition, a 3-year stint at the Sesa football Academy, a brief  training stint at Bayern Munich and then on the rolls of Clube Sporting de Goa before he vanished in the tragedy.

One of the first spotters of the talent bottled in him was Goa’s most famous football icon Brahmanand Shankwalkar.

“There was something big in his football. Sadly it’s no more,” said Shankwalkar, who had picked 15-year-old Avhristo for the coaching stint at Bayern Munich in 2012.

Avrhisto was certainly primed for greatness. His own Club boss Peter Vaz was his biggest fan. He excelled in game sense, was known for quick thinking, creativity and was composed with the ball at his feet. He was counted among the brightest prospects for Goan football.

Before joining Sporting Clube on a five-year contract at the beginning of 2016-2017 season, Avrhisto was on the Calangute Association’s roster in the Goa Pro League. He started his grassroots football under coach Alex Alvares at Chubby Cheeks High School, Pilerne and later joined the Brazil Football Academy.

Off the field, peers and those who knew him say, he was polite and mild-mannered, rarely getting into any arguments with any of his teammates.

All those years of training may have taught him to triumph over any situation on the football pitch but  fell sadly short of preparing him to handle the rough and tumble on life’s playground. In the end, a matter of the heart, a love affair gone awry led him to hang himself.

“Avhristo spoke very little. He never discussed personal matters,” says Brahmanand, who acknowledges that coaches and support staff should be all ears and eyes to catch signs of personal distress in their football wards.

Avhristo, according to Brahmanand, was strong and decisive in his game thinking. The biggest test of his character and will power was when he suffered a knee injury while at Sesa Football Academy.

“He came back remarkably post  that injury” Brahmanand said.

“It’s sad he didn’t discuss the matter troubling him with family, friends or his football mentors,” the Arjuna awardee said.

No one can be blamed for Avhristo’s tragic end but would it be entirely wrong to say that the social and football ecosystem failed to be the support system crucial to prevent such tragedies? Perhaps not.

With the game evolving, ISL and all, Goa’s football ecosystem will do a favour to the game if it begins to brainstorm and come up with a module that lays greater stress on managing footballers’ psychological formation and equip them to manage themselves off the field as well.

VIGILANCE PAYS

ACCORDING to Brahmanand, who’s mentored scores of goalkeepers and footballers, signs of distress of the kind that was faced by Avhristo are bound to show in his football  performance.

“We should be vigilant to notice it and take remedial steps. Sadly in Avhristo’s case it didn’t happen” Brahmanand said.

The legendary goalkeeper however stressed that no one can be blamed for the tragedy but it could trigger coaches and mentors to be more vigilant and develop closer inter-personal ties with their wards.

Many, especially those in the officialdom, may argue that this case of Avristho, is an isolated one. Why blame anyone? True. But, suicides are preventable and the numbers are alarmingly rising in Goa. Clearly not enough is being done.

TROUBLED GOANS

GOA has consistently beaten the national average for suicide rates six years in a row and by a wide margin. More and more Goans are embracing death either due to marital discord, financial troubles, failure in the job market, love gone wrong or mental illnesses.

Why, at first glance it seems odd that Goa is high on the national ranking in suicide rates is perhaps because many suicides don’t make it to the news. And those that do if the victims are as famous as Averistho, the newsrooms decide to simply bury the story with ubiquitous single column play, overshadowed by oceans of coverage of largely inconsequential and cacophonic political banter.

For those who would think highlighting this issue is going a bit overboard, sample this: Up to 16 Goans per lakh of its population kill themselves every year which is alarmingly higher than the 11.7 per lakh population committing suicide in the nation.

These are not mere statistics. They are  numbers of real  Goans such as Averistho giving up on life. Two more  cases were reported, the first a week before and the second about two weeks after the footballer’s death.

OTHER CASES

IN Pulvada Benaulim, a middle-aged man, Savio Agusto Melo, killed himself in the Christmas-New Year’s week of 2017, citing marital discord. And, one week after Averistho’s case, another lad from Dharbandora, 22-year old Santosh Naik, ended his life.

Savio, in his suicide note, cited harassment from his wife, sister-in-law and another person as the reason that prompted him to kill himself. The case of Santosh on the other hand happened days after the Police had arrested him for drugs. The police  tom-tommed the case to the media, brandishing the  100-odd grams of ganja they allegedly found on him. The lad got bail, only to kill himself the next day.

This suicide may have been avoided if only the police had handled the publicity more delicately when elsewhere at a high-decibel EDM Fest in North Goa, they had no qualms to patronize the milk-shake and juice stall run by one ‘Dudu’ a notorious character from the dark narcotic underworld of Goa.

At close to one suicide every other day it’s turning out to be a mental health nightmare in Goa.

INADEQUATE RESOURCES

IN recent Legislative proceedings, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar, admitted  that stress, depression and frustration account for 25 per-cent of the suicides. His written answer, however, did not  explain or account for the reasons behind the balance 75 per-cent of the cases, pretty much a reflection of the State’s casual demeanour in tackling the mental health problem  Goans face.

A score of psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, police and health ministry officials we spoke to all admit that Goa’s mental health facilities are woefully inadequate to cater to over 1.5 million resident Goans and an equal number of visitors.

At the top-end of the State’s mental health setup is the Institute of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour at Bambolim, other than which, there’s no other facility of note to tackle the growing mental health problem in the State. This  leaves it to the mental health professionals in private practice who are far too few to tackle a rapidly growing health issue.

“Suicide is preventable,” says Mapusa-based veteran psychiatrist Dr Peter Castelino. The doctor who also guides Bastora-based  COOJ in its suicide prevention initiatives, advocates greater awareness and drastically enhancing the mental health infrastructure in Goa.

“There is no reason why the primary and community health setup should omit mental health,” Dr Castelino said, adding that he strongly feels that a professional should be available at the Primary and Community Health Centres.

The State needs to step in and spruce up it’s mental health support system and suicide prevention modules, lest many more would-have-been icons of Goa go down the Avhristo way.

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