Shillong, Aug 2: The second edition of the Meghalaya Baby League was officially launched at a special function at the State Convention Centre here today.

The event was marked with the unveiling of the MBL 2019 trophy by Chief Minister Conrad Sangma in the presence of Sports & Youth Affairs Minister Banteidor Lyngdoh, Tata Trusts Head of Sports Biswanath Sinha, All India Football Federation General Manager Swati Kothari, a host of other dignitaries as well as representatives of MBL teams, parents and children.

Over 1,600 boys and girls registered for the inaugural season, which saw the 12 teams play more than 1,300 matches on weekends over seven months.

Last season was a tremendous success in bringing together children from different backgrounds from ages 4 to 13 to play competitive football and spur their overall development. The Meghalaya Football Association was also happy to see the overwhelming support received from parents and other community members in supporting the inaugural season.

The first Meghalaya Baby League was a pilot project of the All India Football Federation Grassroots Development Programme and financially supported by Tata Trusts. This year’s edition will continue to receive the technical back-up of the AIFF and will be supported by Tata Trusts and the Government of Meghalaya.

The league will be expanded to 54 teams across six districts and eight locations from a 12-team league held in the inaugural year. The number of teams in the Shillong leg of the league will be expanded to 24 and will be held in three different locations in and around the state capital, while the league will also be held in five other districts around the state, namely West Jaintia Hills, East Jaintia Hills, Ri-Bhoi, West Khasi Hills and West Garo Hills.

The target for 2019 will be to have around 5,000 children taking part across Meghalaya in the flagship grassroots football event, making it India’s largest Baby League by far.

In his keynote address the Chief Minister, who was also the chief guest, said, “I congratulate the Meghalaya Football Association for taking this kind of initiative. As you have heard this will be the biggest Baby League in the country. I am totally in agreement that we must instil skills and reflexes in children from the ages of 4 to 12 because these are the formative years. I am sure that the MFA’s vision of having more national and international players coming from Meghalaya will become a reality.”

Sangma also noted that development as footballers is not the only objective of the Baby League programme.

“It’s also about team spirit, learning to work together, value one another and learn discipline, all of which are important in life. Life is about winning sometimes and losing sometimes. These are lessons that children should learn early in their lives, so the Baby League is also about the holistic development of our children. I thank Tata Trusts for providing support right when it was needed the most and I wish all the players, teams and parents all the very best,” he said.

Lyngdoh, who was also the Guest of Honour, was a footballer in the past and noted that the quality of sports facilities in the state has been much improved over the years.

“This (the Baby League) is another good move for potential footballers. One example of a country that has focused so well on grassroots development is Uruguay. We have a long way to go to get to that level, but this is the right platform to find future football stars. Meghalaya can become the next powerhouse of football in India.”

Sinha, who became a familiar and warm face during the MBL’s first season last year, said that Tata Trusts is happy to see that the Meghalaya Baby League is expanding this season and thanked parents “for having trust and belief in us”.

He also described Tata Trusts’ investment in the MBL as part of a four-part pyramid, which also includes investment in grassroots centres, a Centre of Excellence in Mizoram and a programme that enables talented young footballers to gain experience in top Spanish club Atletico Madrid; one Meghalaya teenager Luckystar Lawai was earlier this year inducted into the programme.

Meghalaya Football Association President Larsing Ming Sawyan said that the MFA was very keen on taking the MBL forward after the great success last year.

“We are happy that Meghalaya was a frontrunner in adopting the AIFF’s Baby League concept. This year we aim to reach 5,000 children, utilise the skills of 150 referees and train 300 volunteers. The MFA has a 10-year plan that by the end of 2028 we hope to make Meghalaya a more prominent football state that will help India achieve its aim of becoming a powerhouse of Asian football by 2030,” he said.

Kothari explained that playing 30-40 matches is key for children to develop as footballers. As India is a large country of more than 1 billion people, having this happen at a national level poses significant challenges, but that state associations like the MFA can help with this. “I congratulate the MFA on bridging that gap and taking the initiative on its own. The Baby Leagues and grassroots development is a key pillar of sport that will help the AIFF unleash talent. I hope that some of the children in the Meghalaya Baby League today will grow up to play in the national team someday,” she added.

Just prior to his speech the Chief Minister also launched the official MFA website

The dignitaries were also presented with personalised Baby League jerseys, while Kothari also presented the Chief Minister, Sports and Youth Affairs Minister and the MFA President with Indian national team jerseys. The guests were also involved in a fun skills challenge of attempting to score penalty kicks, with the Chief Minister’s team edging the Sports and Youth Affairs Minister’s team 3-2.

The first matches of MBL 2019 will begin tomorrow between Shillong Lajong Cayotes and Titan Otters, Kickstart FCC Rhinos and Unified Gorkha Gators, and Langsning Greenergy Lions and Mawkhar Roosters.

(Photo contributed by the Meghalaya Football Association)

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