Manipuri players shine in SAFF U-16 Football Championship amidst regional strife

SAFF U-16 Championship 2023, Butan. (Photo: YouTube Screenshot/Sportzworkz)

While Manipur continues to report violence, death and vandalism, 16 Manipur boys out of the team of 23 players made India proud by lifting the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) under-16 champion trophy in Thimphu, Bhutan on September 10.

In the match that was between India and Bangladesh - 11 out of the 16 Manipur players are Meitei, 4 are Kukis and one is a Meitei Pangal - who are Muslims.

One of the two goals scored was on the 8th minute by Bharat Lairenjam – a Meitei (Hindu) from Nambol in Bishnupur district and the second was on the 74th minute by Levis Zangminlun, a Kuki {Christian) - from Churachandpur.

"Though players belong to different communities in the team, we mingle together happily in good team spirit,” media reported Bharat saying.

“My teammate, midfielder Levis, told me before the match that I should score to win the match, and his (Levis) second goal was a crucial one for India to grab the championship title. I rushed towards him and gave him a tight hug to celebrate the goal,” he added.

This showcasing of love and team-spirit that was witnessed on the field came at a time when Manipur reported fresh violence and killings amongst the Meitei and the Kuki communities since last week.

Appealing for peace in Manipur Levis Zangminlun said, “football served as their common passion, uniting and allowing them to set aside their differences.”

The Meitei Panga player - Abbas Shingjamayum, bagged the “Most valuable player” and “Top Scorer” (with three goals) in the championship said, “we didn’t talk even an iota about conflict in Manipur, and instead focused on football and team spirit.”

Before the 10-day SAFF U-16 Championship, the Indian team underwent a month-long training camp in Srinagar. They played Bangladesh on September 2, Nepal on September 6 in Group A and made it for the semi-finals on September 8.

Lairikyengbam Jyotirmoy Roy, the General Secretary of the All Manipur Football Association (AMFA), emphasised that in games, the boundaries of ethnicity vanish, as exemplified by the Indian squad in the SAFF U-16 championship.

A twitter handle for Football News India said, “Inspirational unity prevails as Meitei and Kuki players from Manipur shine, helping India win SAFF U-16 Football Championship. Despite challenges, they triumphed together, showcasing skill and solidarity.”