Shillong, Dec 13: It was downright uncomfortable for this (male) TSR writer to be present yesterday at the official launch of the Meghalaya State League (MSL) – the tournament that is going to change the face of football in Meghalaya no less – and have to hear two speakers talk about the “beautiful” female ushers present at the event.

The occasion was held to mark the start of a new initiative on the state’s football scene – a pan-Meghalaya league bringing together 16 clubs in one competition. But towards the end of a long speech, the chief guest and Chief Minister Dr Mukul Sangma felt the need to comment on the attractiveness of the female ushers at the function.

For those who weren’t there, the launch event saw the captains of the 16 participating teams come out one by one onto the stage, accompanied by an usher. Either because they weren’t used to such an event or because they didn’t get to rehearse their role, almost all of the captains appeared decidedly nervous and unsure of themselves while the ushers were calm and assured.

Later, in his speech Dr Sangma commented on this, saying that the team captains were “shy” probably because they weren’t used to being escorted by “beautiful women”.

That wasn’t the end, however, as a senior official of the Meghalaya Football Association, which is organising the MSL, in his vote of thanks encouraged (if one can use that word) the footballers in the league to do well so that they could receive similar treatment in the future.

Both comments received laughs from the, largely, male audience.

Now, it’s one thing that nearly every such function in Meghalaya has a contingent of ushers, greeters and bouquet-presenters entirely made up of young women and almost never men, but never before has this writer heard the looks of those in these roles commented on publicly in such a fashion.

Sport in Meghalaya is totally male dominated. The composition of the audience, largely comprising representatives of sports associations involved in football, bears this out and there were probably less than 10 women, apart from the ushers, in the entire hall. The MSL is also a men’s tournament; there is no women’s league in Meghalaya.

No speaker commented on how Dr Sangma looked, no one referred to the team captains – many of whom swapped their everyday jerseys for sharp suits. No, the comments on appearance were directed at the ushers only. The only reference to women in sport was a brief mention of the Director of Sports and Youth Affairs, Matsiewdor War Nongbri, who was present at the occasion and is a former archer and current archery umpire.

Most ironically of all, the remarks from Dr Sangma and the MFA official came after the captains had dutifully taken a pledge that they would strive to be role models for men and women in sport. But it appears that it isn’t just footballers who need to take such a pledge.

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