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Golden Baby Leagues help generate passion for football in rural Manipur

Indian football and Manipur legends Renedy Singh and Bembem Devi at the sidelines of the Golden Baby Leagues in Manipur. (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)
Indian football and Manipur legends Renedy Singh and Bembem Devi at the sidelines of the Golden Baby Leagues in Manipur. (Photo courtesy: AIFF Media)

Since its inception, the Golden Baby Leagues initiative, started by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) in 2018, has helped light a footballing spark among young children across the country and in rural Manipur, they are also providing hope to families of a brighter future.

“Our objective of starting these Golden Baby Leagues was to introduce underprivileged children to football and give them an opportunity to play under the banner of the AIFF. Almost everyone here is passionate about football but most people come from underprivileged backgrounds and do not have money to buy even stockings.

“Our aim is to provide access to such children, which can enable them to keep working in the sport and make a name for themselves in the future,” Rabisankar Singh Chingtham, who is the League Operator for the Manipur Golden Baby League and LSDC Golden Baby League in Andro and Laimapokpam respectively, told

He continued, “In a few years, we expect more and more children to join us, which will be wonderful for the sport. The previous season was a great start and we want to keep building on it. With time, we want to prepare generations of footballers in the future.”

The Golden Baby League caters to age-groups from U-6 to U-12 and more than 35,000 children took part in leagues all over India in the 2019-20 season. Over 800 children across four age groups participated in these two Golden Baby Leagues in Manipur last season, often drawing a large number of viewers — even more than local senior games. According to Rabisankar, the feedback has been highly positive and the children are eager to return to the field soon.

“Initially, the parents weren’t as interested but once they started coming in to watch their children, we would see each kid bring 8-10 people with them and we would have a large crowd for each game, enjoying themselves. I still get phone calls every day asking me when the Golden Baby League will start. We hope to begin as soon as possible when the situation permits and hopefully, even extend them to more neighbouring regions,” he said.

The League Operator pointed towards the interest shown by young girls, who were seen participating very keenly and even got the better of boys’ teams in a few games. Their zeal was bolstered after they met the ‘Durga of Indian football’ Oinam Bembem Devi, the former India women’s team skipper and Arjuna awardee, who was present for the league’s inauguration along with former Blue Tigers captain Renedy Singh.

“The zeal and quality shown by the young kids, especially the girls, was really nice to see. The Golden Baby Leagues have had a great impact on young children as well as parents. This will help develop a passion for football and also help develop future generations of national team players,” the iconic Bembem Devi averred.

Rabisankar quipped, “More and more girls are playing football in Manipur and the response we got from them in our Golden Baby Leagues was incredible. They impressed everyone with their skills and the potential they possess is brilliant. In the near future, we hope to see an all-new generation of women footballers from here.

“It was great to have Renedy Singh and Bembem Devi join us and the young girls were really inspired after meeting Bembem. Now, they all want to emulate her and become like her. Even the parents were inspired to encourage their children to play,” he added.

Another aspect of these two Golden Baby Leagues in Manipur has been the coming together of the community to help organize the events, with contributions coming in from multiple quarters.

“Many local sponsors came out in support and contributed in-kind in various ways, such as transportation. Many parents pooled in to contribute equipment such as markers, cones, balls and goalposts. Even onlookers would see and chip in with small items such as refreshments for the children. It was really heartening to see the community come together as a whole,” Rabisankar mentioned.

(Shraishth Jain / AIFF Media)