Even though the people of mainland India don’t recognize Manipur as an important part, Manipur has been the power house of sports since its merger to India. Manipur attained full-fledged statehood on 21st January 1972. Once, the first Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru proudly called Manipur ‘’ The Jewel of India’’, is home to many ethnic groups namely Meitei/Meetei, Naga, Kuki, Meitei Pangal etc. Since the time immemorial, the blood of sports has been running inside the vein of people living in Manipur. Manipur, the birth place of modern polo (Sagol Kangjei) has produced a remarkable number of great and famous sportsmen in India even though its population is very less as compared to the many states of India. The contribution of Manipur towards the sports ground of India is very huge. It will be a little difficult not to find a single Manipuri player in any state of India.It has produced a lot of great sportspersons till now in various disciplines. There is no such game that the people of Manipur don’t play. You just name a game and you’ll find one famous Manipuri’s player in that. Manipur has been consistently doing justice to how deserving it is to be known by the tag-line. The powerhouse of sports or Sports Capital of India as coined by the President Ram Nath Kovind, it has produced numerous eminent sports personalities who participated Olympics Games and brought laurels to the nation and set national and international records including a star who won a medal in the Olympics of 2012. In 2020 Tokyo Olympics, five athletes from Manipur are representing India. Manipur’s love for sports and rich sporting culture has earned it a distinct recognition over the years, much like what Haryana has done with boxing and Odisha with Hockey. Taking part in the Olympics is a dream for every athlete of Manipur.
Looking into a glimpse of the history of Manipuri’s in the Olympics, the story starts with the hockey player PANGAMBAM NILKAMAL, the first Manipuri to participate in the Olympics in the year 1984.He represented India as goalkeeper of India’s men’s hockey team. In Indian’s men’s hockey team, Kshetrimayum Thoiba represented India in the Olympics of 1988, Khadangbam Kothajit in 2012 and 2016 and Kangujam Chinglensana in 2016 and Nilakanta Sharma plays as a mid-fielder for India’s men’s hockey team in 2020 Tokyo Olympics and won bronze medal after a gap of 41 years. He was part of the Indian squad that won the 2016 Men’s Hockey junior world championship. Thokchom Anuradha also represented India in the 2016 Olympics as a forward player of India’s women hockey squad. Pukhrambam Sushila Chanu is representing India for the second time in the Tokyo Olympics 2020 and her team marginally misses a medal in the semifinal. In boxing, Ngangom Dingko and Soubam Suresh represented India in the Olympics of 2000. MC Marry Kom and Laishram Devendro represented in the Olympics of 2012 in which Marry Kom won a bronze medal and set a record to become the first Manipuri to win a medal in the Olympics. Kom, the six-time world champion and Olympics bronze medalist represented India for the second time in the 51-kg category in 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The first Indian woman judoka to participate in the Olympics, Lourembam Brojeshwori, participated in the Olympics of 2000 while Khumujam Tombi represented India in the 2008 Olympics. For 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Likmabam Sushila is the only Indian judoka who has qualified for the event. Laishram Bombyla is the only archer from Manipur who has participated in the Olympics so far. She represented India in the 2008 Olympics at individual as well as team event. She also participated in the Olympics of 2012 and 2006. She is also the only Manipuri to compete at the Olympics for three consecutive times. Thingbaijam Sanamacha and Nameirakpam Kunjarani participated in the weightlifting event of women’s 53 kg and 48kg weight categories respectively in 2004 Olympics where Kunjarani was placed fourth. Ngangbam Sonia competed in the women’s 48 kg category in the 2012 Olympics. India registered its maiden victory with Mirabai Chanu’s silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics 2020. Chanu comes from a farming village, 44km from Imphal and is one of the best weightlifters in her 49-kg category for some time now. She has won a world championship and holds the world record in one of the Olympics lifts, the clean and jerk.
Interestingly, Manipur is the birthplace of Polo, known here as Sagol Kangjei which literally means hockey played on the horse. The Imphal Polo ground is among the oldest in the world. Unlike other parts of India and the world, polo in Manipur is an egalitarian game and even today people across social classes play the game. Today Manipur has about two dozen women professional polo players representing two-third of all women polo players in India, effortlessly challenging a stereotype that polo is a sport for men. Despite producing world-class athletes, Manipur’s sporting infrastructure remains below par. In 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted the National Sports University to Manipur but its real time benefits are still not yet seen. In spite of poor sports infrastructures, the state is not only shinning nationally but also internationally. Even at the international front, Bala Devi earned the No-10 jersey in the Scottish Women’s Premier League Club Rangers.Bembem Devi, nick-named as the Durga of Indian women football is arguably the greatest woman footballer of India. Devi won the PADAMASHRI for her football laurels, she also won the SAFF women’s championship thrice and also was the two-time gold recipient of South Asian Games. The Indian soccer leagues has about 43 Manipuri’s players, now playing for different football clubs in the country, the highest for any state.
With Manipur’s growing prowess, Khelo India, the national programme for development of sports, is all set to establish 16 sports centers across 16 districts in the state. They will have one sports discipline in each Centre. But nothing is impossible if we want to. Since the last decade, the competition level in any discipline of sports has been changed rapidly in a high intensity mode. Only the muscle power and resources we got cannot face the ever-increasingcompetition. So, in order to maintain the standard and to meet the ever-growing challenges of our players, our state government needs to tackle the situation. In most of the cases, our players tend to shift their playing grounds outside the state owing to superior facility or advantages as compared to Manipur. We can term this problem as a ‘’Sport’s Brain drain’’. In such a case the migration of good players from our state to another for the search of the good facilities or financial support. The one that produce good players from the grass-root level will slowly lose its fame and manpower resulting in a demotion of the motivational level of young players. The very first and simple step is to provide our players with the basic amenities and facilities to maintain their playing level. Failing to do so will only result in the migration of our many great players to other states. It is relevant to remember the proverb ‘’Rome wasn’t built in a day’’. They also need to get all the essential things for sports like good food, nutritionist, trainer, equipment, etc. like any other players in the world. To get all these facilities they need steady financial source. Therefore, the government of our state should take up measures to avoid such migration and support them mentally and financially.This will help them to concentrate on their respective discipline rather than thinking about next meals so that require fuel of the power house(sport) can be made sustainable.
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