How a loss-making league helped football hit a peak in Mizoram
SETTING EXAMPLE Aizawl FC’s rise is an example of how other states can learn from Mizoram’s rise in football
Jerry Mawihmingthanga’s 29th minute goal for DSK Shivajians on April 16 did dash Kolkata giants East Bengal’s hopes of winning their maiden I-League title. But for Mizoram, it underlined the worth of a lossmaking televised football league.
The Mizoram Premier League (MPL) is no I-League in scale or reach. In five years though, the former has become a factory that churns out scores of footballers for the latter.
Jerry was the best under-17 player of MPL’s first edition in 2012 when the seniors’ league saw the local Binthar FC beat Aizawl FC — in contention for the I-League title this year — to the title. The 2012 MPL opened the floodgates for other Mizoram footballers as good as or better than Jerry, the Mizoram Football Association (MFA) says. Today, the I-League teams together have 52 players from this tiny northeastern state with 1.1 million people.
The rise of Aizawl FC, which was on the verge of being relegated after a poor 2016 I-League show, has been phenomenal. Several factors, MPL one of them, helped the team to come this far.
“We conceived the MPL in 2011, the year Aizawl FC was revived after being virtually defunct since its birth in 1984. MPL became a hit and changed the attitude of people towards football, but it would not have been possible had Zonet, the local cable TV, not supported us,” Lalnghinglova Hmar alias Tetea, MFA secretary, told HT.
There was a time when Mizos dissuaded children from playing football, a “game without a future”. The 39-year-old Hmar, whose primary job is to edit Mizo language daily Vanglaini, too was discouraged by his father Lalchhuanliana, a retired police officer who ironically was captain of the Mizoram state team in the 1970s.
“Making football history is more important than losing money. Our passion for football made us offer R25 lakh annually for the first five years of MPL for television rights. We managed to make an average R15 lakh yearly from sponsors, but the satisfaction of seeking football develop has wiped out the losses,” LV Lalthantluanga, general manager of Zonet, said.
Zonet has upped the deal with MFA to R30 lakh annually for five years from the forthcoming 2017 season where eight teams including Aizawl FC will vie to be the best. Zonet’s penetration in the remotest of areas of Mizoram made MPL a craze, encouraging many children to kick ball and grab attention for a grassroots football programme that sifts the talented from the ordinary.
Shaji Prabhakaran, former Fifa development offer for south and central Asia, also attributes the quantum jump in Mizoram’s football quality to a pro-active government and the right people in MFA.
“MPL was inspired by Manipur Premier League that pioneered the format in 2005. But lack of administrative seriousness made the Manipur league suffer while the Mizoram version is improving,” he said.
“What Mizoram, where terrain makes it difficult for building sporting infrastructure, has done is optimise resources. The government, associations, local NGOs and people at large have come together with a better approach towards sports,” Prabhakaran said.
State sports minister Zodintluanga, however, played down his role. “Apart from four synthetic turfs for football in recent times, we have put up the latest infrastructure for track and field, basketball and other sports. It has been possible because the chief minister (Lal Thanhawla) takes a personal interest,” he said.
Mizoram Premier League changed the attitude of people towards football, but it would not have been possible had Zonet, the local cable TV, not supported us
Aizawl FC (in red) have become the brand ambassadors of Mizoram football and the tiny state has given more than 50 players to various teams competing in the ILeague.