'Didn't want to watch from sidelines': CK Vineeth joins COVID-19 helpline

CK Vineeth has earned his reputation as a rare sportsperson who is unafraid to use his voice. Mangattidum District Panchayat

CK Vineeth now works a 10-5 shift, seven days a week.

Vineeth, who plays as a forward for ISL side Jamshedpur FC, has been volunteering, for ten days now, as a call centre executive at the COVID-19 centre set up by the Kannur district administration and the Kerala state sports council. His duty brief primarily involves taking down requests of essential items from locals who call in and pass them on to delivery agents. "The centre has been functional since March 28," Vineeth tells ESPN, catching a break between calls. "When I was asked by the sports council vice president OK Vineesh if I'd be keen to help, I jumped right in."

Vineeth has already, through his bold stance on social issues, marked himself out as a rare, active Indian sportsperson who isn't afraid to use his voice. He'd famously listed his son's religion as 'NIL' on the birth certificate, expressed his protest and anger over the rape of two minor girls, came out in open support of a young man named Sreejith, who sat outside the Kerala secretariat for over two years demanding justice following his brother's custodial death, and played an active role in the Kerala flood relief operations two years ago.

"When a crisis strikes, we can either sit back or do our part," says Vineeth, on his current volunteering stint. "My state and my district (Kannur) are affected and I just didn't want to be the person watching from the sidelines." Out of over 250 confirmed coronavirus cases in Kerala, Kannur alone accounts for roughly 60 of them. The call centre Vineeth volunteers at has around 15 people answering an average of 200 calls a day. The district panchayat has tied up with grocery shops in the area, which allows for a system through which delivery agents pick up the items requested by households on credit, drop them off, collect cash and then pay vendors back. "We have five BSNL mobile numbers on which people can call. Earlier, kids would call and ask if we could bring them chocolates," says Vineeth. "Now it's mostly the grocery essentials and a lot of requests for medicines."

In addition to call centre volunteering, Vineeth also visited the Kannur district hospital earlier this month as part of a food packet distribution drive for patients. "My father has health complications and I have a young son at home as well, so the days I visited the hospital, I didn't return home," he says. "These days after my shift, once I get back, I shower in our outhouse before entering home."

To encourage people to stay indoors and call in for essentials, the district panchayat ropes in local stars, including politicians and actors among others, for a day's stint each. "I've stayed on the longest," Vineeth laughs. "It's just a way to cheer up people by having someone whom they may have heard of or seen on TV answer their calls and introduce themselves. I did it too on just the first day. Not since. People are struggling for essentials, so I don't want to be picking up the phone and saying, 'You know, I'm CK Vineeth, so are you a fan?' For now, I'm just Vineeth and I'm here to take their order."