Sometimes it is difficult not to believe certain events in the physical world are inter connected, not just by coincidence, but magically by providence. Even as the FIFA World Cup concluded with its liberal doses of heartbreaks and triumphant moments, the Manipur Olympics Association, MOA, too had a change of guards. This is not a commentary on the electoral fortunes of the MOA. This is on the other hand a reminder of mistakes which can ruin, and have indeed been the cause for ruins of many similar sporting projects everywhere. No example of this can be more profound and glaring than the manner in which a formidable footballing nation, Brazil, suffered what can only be described as a catastrophe at the World Cup 2014. Brazil which has won the World Cup five times had the expectation this time of adding to this awesome tally to make it six. What the team, riding on the shoulders of its multimillion dollar superstar players like Neymar da Silva Santosh Jr and David Luiz ended up with, as those of us who followed the tournament closely saw, were ruthless plunders first at the hands of Germany 1-7 in the quarterfinals and then The Netherlands 0-3 in the semis. For a nation which breaths and lives football, no humiliation could have been worse, and as numerous hyperbole rich banner headlines in the nation’s newspapers screamed on the morrow of these matches, the shame of this rout was unprecedented in its entire history.
For some reasons, probably for the fact that Brazil’s playing style nicknamed “samba football” which has come to acquire the reputation of representing the joy and exuberance of the “beautiful game”, quite in contrast to the European style which is seen as marked by methodical regimented discipline, a lot many in the non-European world generally end up supporting Brazil. Manipur is no exception. But even for dispassionate followers of football who did not care too much for the fate of Brazil’s team, the two massacres, especially the one by the Germans, were difficult to watch, and if as in boxing there was anything as throwing in the towel to surrender and stop the contest, they too would have loved to see this when there seemed no way Brazil could avoid the massacring onslaughts. In terms more familiar in India, many wished the cricket rule of declaring was also in vogue in football, so that the Germans and then the Dutch could have said enough is enough, and graciously ended the torture mid-game.
As the dusts settle and passions cool, dispassionate post mortem analyses would begin, and indeed have already begun. It is these reports that Manipur should be keenly interested in, for on Manipur’s smaller sports canvas, the parallels are uncannily similar. How did Brazil with such a pedigree of football talent, and inherent national footballing DNA determining its thirst for excellence in the game, not manage to put together a team capable at least of avoiding such humiliation, if not win the World Cup? They had a reputed coach of known international reputation in Luiz Filipe Scolari who has led the Brazil team before to World Cup victory in 2002, and also has been behind many successful campaigns at home and in Europe as manager of various reputed clubs and national sides.
Many are already blaming corruption and official complacency in the framing as well as execution of sports policy in the country. While official patronage of sports is essential for sporting excellence to become a reality, a complete usurpation of the sports agenda by the officialdom can blunt individual creative instincts at the grassroots by reducing sports to another routine official matter. The protests against the World Cup in Brazil before the tournament began have thus acquired new significance. There are already doubts expressed in the country that something did not connect the 12 billion US dollars spent to build the World Cup infrastructures and the way sports was being managed at the grassroots. But let Brazil answer its own questions? The self questioning has also only just begun, so it would be preposterous for us to jump the gun.
But the Manipur parallel is significant, therefore this editorial. This year, Manipur which once was considered as a fountainhead of footballing talent in the country, and its team feared in all national footballing arenas, did not figure anywhere in the Santosh Trophy tournament, the foremost national championship. Did anybody ask why? Neighbouring Mizoram put up a superlative performance and won the trophy, which deserves our congratulations, but how has Manipur’s prowess in the game diminished so radically? Manipur is also a known powerhouse in many other sporting disciplines, but the uneasy question is, would the football fate fall on other sporting disciplines too? How are our State level leagues being organized? Where are the teams which participate in these State level leagues drawing their players from? What are the selection procedures? The picture does not seem too promising.
Here too it may again be an official usurpation which may be the bane. Just one example will illustrate this point. The Eastern Sporting Union has a beautiful football ground. Probably official funds for its upkeep are much more generous now than a decade ago, for it is well maintained. It is unfortunately out of bounds of the public. Round the year, it is a pain to see kids in the locality playing on little patches outside the main sprawling, green, manicured, empty ground, because they are prohibited to enter it. Is the obsession with the cosmetic upkeep of the ground killing local talents? Surely football grounds are not meant for tourist attraction, and their more important function is grooming players. True, a balance is necessary for the ground can also become abused and fatigued by overuse, but as it seems, the balance has been tipped towards the wrong end at this moment. There therefore is a lesson for Manipur in the manner Brazil suffered a humiliation despite the 12 billion dollars spent on building state-of-the-art stadiums.
The highest governing body of sports in the State, the Manipur Olympics Association, has just had its election and a new set of office bearers have taken over. We hope this new team would see the lesson and begin the reformation process. We hope it will be able to rejuvenate the moribund sports administration and re-instill life back into sports in the State, beginning from identifying and grooming talents from the grassroots to the conduct of highest level tournaments.
Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam