Shillong, Aug 23: There was huge enthusiasm last year when the Meghalaya Football Association announced that it would begin the first dedicated amateur football league in the state. With 20 available slots, the MFA had a waiting list of teams eager to join.

However, more than a year on, that enthusiasm has largely faded as the Meghalaya Amateur League has limped on for 14 months without even reaching the halfway mark (the whole season was expected to be wrapped up in 10 months).

Angry teams demanded a meeting with the MFA and this was held today where the teams made it clear that they wanted the league scrapped and a refund of the money they have paid to the association (each team has forked out something like Rs 40,000 in player and team registration fees).

The MAL was meant to expand grassroots football in Meghalaya, spreading the game further in the state by fostering community bonding through healthy competition while promoting a fit and active lifestyle.

But while things went well at first, problems began cropping up. As an amateur league, games were restricted to weekends and public holidays, which was necessary and sensible. However, with 20 teams and just one venue – the MFA Turf at Third Ground in Polo – there was little room for delays in the calendar.

But delays inevitably did arise. Sometimes it was down to the teams themselves – they wouldn’t be free one weekend and the game/s would have to be postponed; and then came the state elections earlier this year when many players were busy on official duty.

Other problems included the ground – the MFA Turf is prone to waterlogging during heavy rains and it was in high demand as there was (until recently) no other usable football field in Polo. The MFA also apparently had trouble securing referees to officiate the league, with a prime example of this coming last month when teams turned out for a scheduled match only for it to be cancelled after they got to the ground because the referees didn’t show up.

Despite it not looking good for the MFA to have to cancel one of its own tournaments, it could be in the interest of the association to agree to the teams’ demands and scrap this season, learn from the mistakes and come back with a better league this year or next.

As grassroots events, amateur leagues have high participation and the potential for large-scale community impact. Sadly, the MAL hasn’t been quite so positive as was hoped by all concerned.

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