Manipur did not take the Santosh Trophy, the country`™s top most inter-state football championship, going down 1-2 to Indian`™s football powerhouse, Bengal, in the final played at the floodlit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Guwahati on Monday. The consolation however is, this small impoverished state always manages to put together teams year after year which no other team, even the best reputed and groomed, can take for granted. The fact that Manipur entered the final of this most prestigious national tournament is itself a feat, and this is only the second time Manipur has made it to the final of this tournament. This year too, although beaten, the young Manipur side visibly shook up the Bengal veterans considerably, the later having to resort to the cynical tactics of time wasting in the second half so as to hang on to the final whistle with the narrow margin they held by virtue of a goal each scored in each of the two halves. Manipur`™s relentless pressure in the second half ultimately broke through the Bengal defence and scored one to reduce the margin to 1-2. The pressure continued and if not for a number of missed chances, Manipur probably would have emerged on top. Even if Manipur managed one more goal in, which on so many occasions they nearly did, and the match was extended to extra time, the bet would have been overwhelmingly on Manipur to carry the day, for they were definitely the physically fitter and agile side. Bengal it must be said were the more experienced and it was experience which got them to keep the margin, though precariously, till the end. All in all it was a good match, and Bengal for whom it was the 31st time winning the trophy, deserved the win, although the losers Manipur too earned respect for the valiant fight they put up. Our congratulations go out to the Manipur team, and gratitude too, for earning the state another proud reputation.
We write also to raise an alarm. Football is no longer so much of a routine sight on the playgrounds of Imphal and indeed the entire state. The power of television being such, they are being usurped by cricket. Worse still is, it is not even the standard cricket, for Manipur`™s version is generally played either with tennis ball or else plastic look alike of the real cricket balls. This is good for toddlers, but no player who grows up on a diet of these versions of the game can ever make it to the top of what is virtually not just the national game of India, but also the national obsession. These versions can only be light recreation and never be fodder for future champions to emerge. The worry then is, this cricket placebo may end up as the dog in the manger, diverting focus from what the state is good in, but not replacing the space it usurped with new champion material. That would be such a loss. The blame can only go to the television media, and the monopoly over sporting glamour so wilfully given to cricket and at the cost of all other games in the country. It needs no reminder that it is not cricket but hockey which is the national game officially. No wonder India IS seldom of any reckoning in any other game apart from cricket on the international arena. This imbalance must be set right on a national scale, but most immediately for Manipur, the game must not be allowed to take away the focus from other games more suited to the genius of the place.
But the lopsided attention to cricket, and the near total neglect of other games was most prominently displayed on the day of the final. Major private news channels of the country did not even think the news of the final was worth even a short mention in their news bulletins for the day. Only Doordarshan the government owned channel did the needful faithfully and gave the match equitable coverage. On the other hand all the private channels flocked to, and gave extended coverage to a function honouring cricketers for their World Cup feat. While the attention cricket is good, what is lamentable is the manner in which all other games are ending up ignored. It is unlikely this attitude would change in the near future, for it is also the market which is determining it. Advertisers flock to cricket thus compelling the media to oblige the advertisers`™ needs and a self perpetuating spiral is thus created in which the advertisers and the media whet each others`™ appetite. Manipur must resist this temptation. Its sporting reputation were earned from a varied number of sports, it must remain so. If cricket is to be played, so be it, but with the media biases so pervasive, it must take care this new trend does not result in a cricket monoculture as in much of the rest of India.