It is no mean achievement for Manipur that out of the 21 footballers selected for the FIFA U-17 World Cup beginning this October, six are from the tiny Northeastern state.
All these players have a common denominator — unspeakable poverty. They could not get standard coaching as they could not afford the exorbitant fees, and most of them have never had access to nutritious meals, dependent as they were on whatever their daily-wage-earning parents managed to scrape together.
Most of the parents broke down while talking about the hardships they faced with regard to footing bills. In normal circumstances, the parents should have been upbeat about their sons playing in the World Cup.
K Mina wept uncontrollably while talking about her son, K Ningthoinganba, who is now undergoing training in Germany. She said,
It will be better if he does not come back since I have no money to provide him with a balanced diet.
She did not even have money for train fare to go and watch her son play in the tournament. However, some large-hearted people have contributed the money, and a smiling Mina said, "I will be in a position to watch my son play." The family comprising Mina, Ningthoinganba, and two sisters are staying in a tin-roofed shack which was originally a cowshed. Mina said, "We shared the shed with cows. However, later we stopped keeping the cows."
Mina, a widow, sells fermented fish in the market, earning a small daily income with which she runs the household.
The parents of the other players too could hardly afford the sports shoes and balanced diet since they earn a meagre amount as daily-wage workers. Chief Minister N Biren Singh says that in recognition of the talent of the sportspersons, the Centre is setting up a sports university in Manipur. However, the sportspersons and their parents are disillusioned since no minister has so far helped them.
Many players who had won laurels at international events could not take part in other competitions as they could not afford tickets to reach the venues.
Kerala Minister for Industries, Sports & Youth Affairs AC Moideen recently unveiled the FIFA Under-17 World Cup trophy at the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in New Delhi. India, as the host country, has automatically qualified for the FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017.
With inputs from IANS.