How Manipur’s only all-girls football club is nurturing world champions
In this land of cricket, we often forget about the existence of other sports like football. For the Andro Mahila Mandal Association (AMMA) camp in Manipur, however, training girls in the sport is a priority. Located 40 km from Imphal, the football association is the only all-girls football club in the state.
Bikram Singh Thockchom quit his job as the marketing head at a multinational infotech company to start the association. He moved back from the national capital to lead the association here. He says,
There are two reasons I did this. I wanted to return to the sights and sounds of my childhood. And, being an amateur footballer who never went pro, I have always wanted to be a coach or mentor.
Football is the most popular game in Manipur, with 13 state-level clubs for men and five major-league clubs for women. There are around 269 football clubs in the state. "In Manipur, the ancient Andro village is gradually becoming a favourite among tourists due to its scenic beauty and the glimpse it provides into the rich tribal traditions," says a report by e-Pao.
"AMMA was set up in 1982, as a self-help group meant to promote animal husbandry, weaving, and crafts among women," says a Hindustan Times report.
Laibi Phanjoubam, the 62-year-old founder of AMMA, says,
Young boys and girls were getting drawn into militancy and drugs. Our village was facing a crisis. Local community clubs were trying to distract the youth from the troubles by channeling their energy into sports, drama and cultural activities. Sports emerged as the best way.
In the '90s, the club began encouraging women to play on the adjacent ground and in 1999, it was recognised by the All Manipur Football Association. She adds,
There were already many clubs for boys. We felt a dedicated one for girls would give them confidence and success. We are now in the process of registering under the All India Football Federation. It is time for our girls to shine in the world.
Over the last few years, this club has been instrumental in producing football champions like Rina Salam, who currently plays on the Indian women’s team, and Oinam Bembem, who has captained the Indian women’s team thrice.