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Manipur welcomes home Asian Games hockey medalists amidst mixed emotions

by Aribam Bishwajit
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Manipur welcomes home Asian Games hockey medalists amidst mixed emotions

Despite the ongoing conflict in Manipur, its native sons and daughters continue to make a mark on international stages. Three standout Manipuri players who represented India at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China — S Nilakanta Sharma (Gold medalist), P. Sushila Chanu, and Kh. Bichu Devi (both Bronze medalists) — were welcomed today at Imphal International Airport.
Sportspersons, supporters, and family members greeted the players with a subdued yet heartfelt hero’s welcome, complete with garlands, hugs, and applause to celebrate their achievements.
Amidst the celebrations, P. Sushila Chanu took a moment to share her sentiments with the media. “Our aim was the gold medal, but we settled for silver. While training in Bangalore for the Asian Games, we were deeply affected by the distressing news from Manipur, witnessing the devastation of homes and the palpable grief of our people. We felt helpless from afar. Yet, we held onto the belief that any medal we won would be a tribute to our beloved Manipur. Looking ahead, we are committed to contributing more to our motherland.”
Echoing Chanu’s feelings, goalkeeper Kh. Bichu Devi said, “Sports often teach us the hard reality that in a game, someone has to lose. However, I remain undeterred. I’m determined to give my best in upcoming matches, aiming to bring further glory to both Manipur and India.”
With a heavy heart and a hopeful demeanor, S Nilakanta Sharma, a pivotal part of the gold medal-winning team, shared his perspective on the tumultuous events in Manipur. Even while in the midst of his athletic endeavors, he remained connected to his homeland, frequently updating himself on the unfolding crisis through various social media platforms.
When prompted about whether he wanted to send a message back home, his response was poignant: “If speaking out could have resolved the situation, we would have raised our voices much earlier.”
Reflecting further, Nilakanta recounted his triumphant return after the Olympics, a memory that sharply contrasted with his current homecoming. “After the Olympics, the atmosphere was electrifying. This time, even with a gold medal in our hands, the reception feels different. My teammates from other states were elated, but my heart was heavy knowing the unrest that awaited me in Manipur. I anticipated a subdued welcome upon landing in Imphal, given the prevailing situation.
During normal days in Manipur, athletes were greeted with unbridled celebrations upon their return. However, in light of the current unrest in the state, this homecoming bears a more somber tone. Nevertheless, their medal victories offer a fleeting, yet poignant, glimmer of joy amidst the shadows for the people of Manipur.

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Imphal Times is a daily English newspaper published in Imphal and is registered with Registrar of the Newspapers for India with Regd. No MANENG/2013/51092


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