Oinam Bembem as a young girl started playing football with the boys of her neighbourhood. Her talent in the game was not ordinary even when she was young. The Young Amateur Welfare Association, a club based in Imphal was quick to identify Bembem’s talent. That was Bembem’s first ever footstep into professional football tournament. Today Bembem is undoubtedly the face of Indian women football. She is the first women from Manipur to bag the title of ‘Best Footballer’ for two times. The title is awarded by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) for the year 2001 and 2013. Yet Bembem’s journey from the YAWA club to the international tournaments has not been a smooth one. Right from her early days Bembem had to swim against the tide. Her parents were not encouraging. This is rather typical for most families. Though it is proudly claimed that the state of Manipur is the powerhouse of games and sports; respectable and sustainable livelihood for their children is the priority of parents. Parents are doubtful that their children’s choice of career in sports would guarantee them a sustainable income in the future. Bembem’s parents were no different from other parents. Their perpetual advice for Bembem was not to divert her attention from formal education. Bembem has however proved that her parents were wrong by her achievements in due course. Yet one can imagine how Bembem must have struggled fighting against all odds. It must have been challenging for Bembem to fight her ways, particularly without the backing of her family. And it is not surprising, that today, Bembem parents are proud to have a star daughter in the family.
Bembem’s career as a women footballer has been a remarkable one indeed. She is an attacking midfielder known for her prolific goal scores, who having scored more than fifty international goals. She was already a name in the 10th Asia Football Championship which was held at Malaysia in 1995. Having represented the country since she was 15 years of age, Bembem has captained the Indian women football team and has brought laurels too. In an interview with Sportskeeda, a sports website, Bembem opined that the Indian men’s football team gets much better facilities than its women counterpart. This is despite the fact that the men’s team is ranked below 150th ranking in the world, whereas the women’s team is ranked 52nd. Needless to say, women football in India has not got its due recognition till today. But one has to be optimistic like Bembem. In 2012, a delegation of FIFA including a consultant on women’s football visited Manipur. Bembem had then urged the delegation to set up academies for women footballers. We have to wait and see whether Bembem’s request materialises or not. Moreover, the employment opportunities for women footballers, particularly in the state are very few. Women footballers are employed mostly in the Indian Railways. Bembem cites the example of Y. Kamala, L. Naobi and N. Montessori who left Manipur because of their jobs in the Indian Railways. Bembem is currently an employee of Manipur Police. In a recent interview with the IFP, Bembem was reluctant to divulge her position in the professional hierarchy of the state police. She deserves the same rank with that of N. Kunjarani in the Central Reserved Police Force and Mary Kom in the state police. The fact that she has not appeared in world championships or Olympic Games in an individual event should not be the soul criteria. Now, Bembem is going to reach her retirement age in professional football as an active player soon. She wishes to serve as a coach after that. The state police should give her suitable rank as a retirement gift.
Leader Writer: Senate Khuraijam