Shillong, May 15: The teams taking part in the inaugural Meghalaya Baby League 2018 are all of the opinion that the competition is the perfect opportunity to provide a platform for children at a very young age to get into the sport of football and take them further.

Representatives of nine of the 12 participating teams were present at a press conference at the Shillong Press Club here today to interact with the local media and elaborate on what motivated them to get involved in the Meghalaya Baby League, which with launch on 19th May at the JN Stadium here at 3PM.

Those present were star Meghalaya footballer and India international Eugeneson Lyngdoh (of team ENE), Daniel Rapsang (Langsning Greenergy Lions), Khlurstep W Ritshong (Nongtrai SC), Aibanjop Shadap (Touchline NE), Rajiv Joshi (Unified Gorkha FC), Working Syiem (Nongthymmai Football Grassroots Centre), Gregory Khyriem (Sunnydale School), Leadingstar Kshiar (Mawlatbah United FC) and Kelan Kshiar (Wahlakhiat SC). The other three teams that were not able to attend are Kick Start Football Academy, Littlestars Academy and the JNS Grassroots Centre.

Speaking from his own experience, Lyngdoh said, “Past generations had no platform such as this. I never had. But thanks to the Meghalaya Football Association we do now and it’s a great opportunity for the kids. Getting them to play every weekend will prepare them for later stages if they want to pursue football further or in life in general. Because sport really helps in developing kids for the future.”

The other representatives shared Lyngdoh’s opinion.

Langsning FC are the only big club from Shillong fielding a team (under the banner Langsning Greenergy Lions) in the Baby League and their representative, Rapsang, said that the team “want to help the children perform and to impart knowledge to them. It’s a good initiative that will really help in promoting football among the 4-5 and 6-7 age groups.”

From outside Shillong come Mawlatbah United FC, Wahlakhiat SC and Nongtrai SC. The first two are based around villages near Pynursla, while the latter is close to Sohra.

“We are very happy that the children from our border area will get this chance at playing football, which they did not get before,” Wahlakhiat’s representative Kelan Kshiar said. Similar sentiments were held by Nongtrai’s and Mawlatbah’s reps Ritshong and Leadingstar Kshiar, with the latter adding that their children have a lot of talent and drive but lack opportunities.

Nongthymmai Football Coaching Centre and Unified Gorkha have been coaching children for the last three and six years respectively and are keen to have their charges exposed to playing others in a league that will run for several months.

“There are not many tournaments (for youngsters) except for the U-12 tournament (organised by the Shillong Sports Association). This league will give opportunities for even younger players,” Nongthymmai’s Syiem said.

Joshi, meanwhile, said that Unified Gorkha has been inspired by players like Eugeneson Lyngdoh and the bigger football clubs of Meghalaya and hopes that the Baby League “will provide a platform for kids and create positive change.”

The Baby League is the joint initiative of one of India’s oldest philanthropic organisations – Tata Trusts – the MFA and the All India Football Federation (AIFF) and aims to give children from the age of 4 to 13 regular exposure to competitive football over a period of six months in order to develop their game, instil confidence and create a base of players that can be drawn on and taken to the next level in their teenage years.

The format will be a league-cum-knockout arrangement, with five-a-side and seven-a-side matches, depending on the age group.

The 4-5 years and 5-6 years age groups will be five-a-side with a minimum of 10 players in each team. The 8-9 years, 10-11 years and 12-13 years age groups will be seven-a-side and will have to have a minimum of 12 players per team.

The league will be held on weekends and other holidays, with the possibility of Fridays as well so long as this does not affect the children’s school schedule. A minimum of 10 percent of a team’s squad must be made up of girls.

(Photo contributed by the Meghalaya Football Association. (From left) Gregory Khyriem of Sunnydale School, Rajiv Joshi of Unified Gorkha FC, Daniel Rapsang of Langsning Greenergy Lions, Eugeneson Lyngdoh of ENE, Kelan Kshiar of Wahlakhiat SC, Leadingstar Kshiar of Mawlatbah United FC, Aibanjop Shadap of Touchline NE, Working Syiem of Nongthymmai Football Coaching Centre and Khlurstep W Ritshong of Nongtrai SC)

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