How a loss-making league helped foot­ball hit a peak in Mi­zo­ram

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - Front Page - Rahul Kar­makar rahul.kar­makar@hindustant­

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.

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