7 from Manipur in 21 member team Sports culture

A sort of a major departure from the usual news stories that have been hogging the limelight and occupying prime space in all the major newspapers published from Imphal. It was like a breath of fresh air and far from the protests staged all over the place against the decision of the BJP led Government to do away with prohibition and legalise alcohol, and the politics of pull and pushes which have been hogging limelight, it was with a sense of achievement that The Sangai Express decided to carry a news story, related to sports as the lead story datelined Bhubaneswar October 5. And why not. Of the 21 players picked for the U-17 Indian team for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, 7 from Manipur made the cut. This may have come like a breath of fresh air even to those  who are not in any way connected with football or even sports as such but it was a delight to carry a good, positive news as the lead story once in a while. That India may be up against some of the finest teams in the world and Team India may not make much progress is a distinct possibility, but the very fact that seven young girls from Manipur have made it to the National team is definitely big news. This is a fitting extension of the story from 2017, when eight young lads from Manipur also made it to the National team for the U-17 Men’s World Cup. Top this off with the fact that of the seven players in the National team, five are drawn from a single club, Young Welfare Club, Langthabal should also tell the story of how clubs and associations at the leikai level have been able to spot and hone young talents. Catch Them Young and certainly Manipur seems to be on the right track, with so many local clubs tapping raw talent and nurturing them. Aptly fits the bill of a place which has given outstanding players such as Ng Bala who plies her trade at Rangers FC in Scotland, Dangmei Grace who has been picked by FC Nasaf at Uzbekistan. These are the two names that come to mind at the moment and there must be many more who ply their skills in the elite teams of India. The girls came a little later than the boys and one can still recollect the heroics of Gunabir, Rennedy, Somatai Shaiza etal who made a name for themselves with some of the biggest football clubs in the country. Cast the net a little wider and Manipur has already given two Olympic medallists in the person of Mary Kom (Boxing, Bronze at the London Olympics in 2012) and Mirabai Chanu (Weight lifting, Silver, Tokyo 2020 Olympics). The two are besides the other medal winners at various level, including the Asian Games.
Seven players from Manipur amongst the 21 selected to represent the country and clearly the people of the State have shown that they have it in them to outdo the others who may be better placed. A State with a population of about 30 lakh, yet managing to produce medal winners at the Olympics and making up for one third of the players selected for the U-17 Women’s World Cup and this should more than make Manipur fit the bill of ‘sports powerhouse of the country.’ Manipur’s feat in the world of sports goes a long time back with Nilkamal making the cut to represent the country in Hockey at the Los Angeles Olympics back in 1984. A matter of pride it is and besides the medal winners at the Olympics, Manipur has produced some of the finest sportpersons such as Kunjarani, Sanamacha, L Sarita, Dingko Singh etal. It is against this reality that the Centre chose Manipur to set up the National Sports  University. There is certainly a pattern, a sort of a culture that has enabled Manipur to produce so many champion sportspersons in different discipline. Take a look through the sports pages of any newspaper published from Imphal and one is sure to be greeted with reports of numerous tournaments staged at different parts of the State. Come Yaoshang and again it will be sports at the leikai level and if today girls from Manipur make up one third of the team for the World Cup, then it is due to the sports movement, which has become a sort of a culture all over the place.