Conference of all YAS Ministers Talking, breathing sports

India could not have chosen a more appropriate place than Imphal to hold the 3rd conference of Ministers of Youth Affairs and Sports of different States and Union Territories and this is taking one step up from the  line ‘Sports capital of the country.’ This epithet is not something picked from thin air but is in recognition of the immense contribution Manipur has made to sports and is in a way leading the ‘sports movement’ in the country. Again it is in line with this understanding that the Argentina Football Academy is set to ink a deal with the State Government to set up a football academy here. A football powerhouse and the world champion agreeing to set up a football academy here and the feel good sentiment is something that cannot easily be put into ink. Manipur being chosen over Bengal, traditionally known as the football capital of India, over Goa and Kerala are stuffs that would not even have been thought possible a decade or two back, but here it is. And what better occasion than the conference of Ministers of Youth Affairs and Sports and in the presence Union Minister of YAS Anurag Singh Thakur to announce this, as Chief Minister did on the first day of the two day conference, aptly titled ‘Chintan Shivir’. Long before football went sort of big, with the coming of Indian Super League (ISL) and the second tier I-League, football players from Manipur were already enthralling football lovers and even those with a cursory interest in the game across the country, turning out for big names such as Mohun Bagan, East Bengal, Mohammedan Sporting, Salgaocar, Churchill Brothers, Dempo etc. Recalling all the big names from Manipur, plying their skill and trade with the giant clubs would not be possible here, but one can still recall how Kiron Khongsai, Gunabir Singh, James, Somatai Shaiza, Renedy Singh etc gave a new understanding to the game of football and put not only Manipur, but the entire North East on the football map of India. Today too the name of Manipur is etched right up there when one takes a look at any of the big teams in the fray in the ISL or I-League. Fitting it is that a country which has given Maradona and Messi to the world should now be ready to set up a football academy in Manipur.
To identify Manipur with only football in the world of sports would be missing the trees for the woods for here is a tiny State, with just about 30 lakh population, leading the podium finish at the Tokyo Olympics with S Mirabai winning India’s first medal with a silver in weightlifting. Rewind to the Los Angeles Olympics of 1984 and old timers will recall how a player from Manipur, Nilkamal Singh was with the Indian Hockey team rubbing shoulders with legends such as Zafar Iqbal and which missed the last four stage ‘by a whisker’ as then reported by the Hindu. Mary Kom is another name that comes to mind, with the gutsy lady bagging the bronze at the 2012 London Olympics and bagging several World Championship titles and not to talk about L Sarita another world champion. Name any sport and one can be sure of some promising youngsters from Manipur adorning the line up and even in cricket, a game chiefly associated with other parts of country, notably the metros such as Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chennai and other towns, the Manipur cricket team recently broke into the Elite Group of Ranji Trophy. No mean feat this is. It is in recognition of the immense contribution of Manipur to sports that the State was chosen to open the first National Sports University and two day conference of all Ministers of Youth Affairs and Sports  from across the country here at Imphal. Take a look at any of the daily newspaper published in Imphal and go to the sports page and this should say something significant on how sports is a sort of a culture here. Manipur literally breathes and talks sports with some even dreaming about it.