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The expressway out of misery

Imphal: Poverty is not unique to Manipur. However, while extended ooohs and aaahs protect women in places like Bengal, Delhi and Maharashtra, Manipur’s girls have been constructing their own expressway out of this misery through sports. The weightlifters and hockey players are well known, but football has offered a sanctuary too.

Of the ten national women’s football championships held so far, Manipur girls have won the title eight times (they are the holders) and Bengal have won the other two times. Now they are even national junior champions (meet held in Diphu recently). Even more, the national women’s teams sport eight-nine Manipuris on a regular basis. Names like Th. Tababi Devi and O. Bembem Devi have become household names in Imphal. O. Bembem was last year named the Woman Footballer of the Year by the AIFF.

Manipur women’s coach (and national coach) M. Ratan Kumar Singh feels this success can be attributed to the tournaments held in and around Manipur. Not too many, but on a regular basis. “For the senior women there are three meets — the women’s football league, the inter-district meet among the state’s eight districts and the MK Priyobrata Memorial invitation women’s meet (where teams from other states also come) — which have a regular entry,” he says.

There are almost 300 women footballers registered with the All Manipur Fotball Association now. Mostly from colleges and schools, and mostly sans jobs or any means of support. But the better ones are getting jobs with the Manipur Police and play fo the Manipur Police Sports Club (MPSC). The MPSC has on its rolls, nine international players.

There are other clubs that are doing pretty well and offer senior women players to the national scene. There is the Eastern Sporting Union (ESU), the Naharol Yaipha Thoarang Club (NYThC) and the North Imphal Sports Association (NISA), being the best. For juniors there are teams from NISA, the Sun Club, NYThC and the Western Sporting Union (WSU). The Unions are clubs from the two Imphal districts, East and West.

The police have most of the glory, but they should, having provided the employment. For those not so lucky or not so talented, poverty is a daily worry. The MPFA’s funds, too, are not substantial. After the National Games, this 58th national football championship for the LG Santosh Trophy is probably the biggest sporting event here.

That apart, the MPFA holds the Sir Surchand Singha Ksesi (CBE) Memorial (the former king of Manipur) invitation meet which provides funds for year round activity.

It is a small place with small ambitions. But even sometimes when big time calls, there are heartbreaks. “I was the national women’s coach for the Busan Asian Games, and then the Indian Olympic Association decided not to send a team,” said Ratan Kumar. “What to do'”

What else but wait' Manipur is too small and too remote a place on the AIFF calendar.

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