Shillong, May 19: The Meghalaya Baby League (MBL) 2018 got underway successfully here today, despite the inclement weather, with the young children the stars on the day.

The MBL was officially opened by the chief guest, Sports & Youth Affairs Minister Banteidor Lyngdoh, at the JN Stadium. Kushal Das, All India Football Federation (AIFF) General Secretary; Biswanath Sinha, Zonal Head – East & North East, Tata Trusts; Larsing Ming Sawyan, Meghalaya Football Association (MFA) President and AIFF Vice-President, were some of the other dignitaries present. The owners/managers of the participating teams, including Meghalaya football icon Eugeneson Lyngdoh, were also at the launch.

Dignitaries along with team owners/managers

Three matches were held today – in the 4-5 years age group, 6-7 and 12-13 – between ENE Falcons and JNS Jaguars. The kids looked like they thoroughly enjoyed themselves playing in the rain and there were some fun moments for the family members who came to cheer on the players.

The other teams who have registered for the MBL are Kickstart Football Academy Rhinos, Touchline NE Cubs, Unified Gorkha Gators, Nongthymmai GC Scorpions, Langsning Greenergy Lions, Nongtrai Cheetahs, Mawlatbah SC Hawks, Littlestar Clouded Leopards, Sunnydale School Doves and Wahlakhiat Bulls.

The Meghalaya Baby League is the joint initiative of one of India’s oldest philanthropic organisations – Tata Trusts – the MFA and the 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.

It is also a crucial opportunity to instil discipline in Meghalaya’s youth from a very young age. This is reflected in the team pledge, which calls on players to respect opponents, officials, team mates and coaches, take responsibility and exemplify sportsmanship. The MBL and the teams themselves have also pledged to make the competition plastic-free and environmentally friendly.

In his address Banteidor Lyngdoh, a former footballer himself, described the MBL as a great initiative.

“This is a very good opportunity for children and I hope that some day we will see our players all over the country. The Meghalaya Football Association has done a lot to promote the sport in our state and the government will ensure help and promote football in Meghalaya,” the Minister said.

Das also said that the concept of the Baby League is a “great step forward” in the development of the sport among India’s children.

“This is a structured league that will be taken across the country. The AIFF has held grassroots programmes, but these have been based on participation and here we have a league that will stress on competition,” the AIFF General Secretary added.

Sinha, meanwhile, said that today was a “great day for Tata Trusts”.

The organisation is currently running 85 grassroots centres in Mizoram and Manipur and launched its Centre of Excellence in Mizoram in April as a residential academy.

“We feel privileged to be able to take part in the launch of this Baby League. This is the first time that Tata Trusts is working with the All India Football Federation and the Meghalaya Football Association,” he said.

Sawyan also described today as “historic”, adding, “The Meghalaya Baby League is a pilot project for grassroots development, something we had been lacking in India. Youth football has taken off in the last seven to eight years, but not really at the age we have to focus on. We’ve taken note of other countries and in South America kids get regular exposure to 45 games in a year. That has been missing in India.”

He also noted the success of Eugeneson Lyngdoh, who is one of the top footballers in the country.

“Eugene’s success is a symbol of the talent that Meghalaya has. He got to where he is without grassroots and youth opportunities,” Sawyan added.

(Photos contributed by the Meghalaya Football Association. ENE Falcons (black), JNS Jaguars (yellow))

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