Teammate shot dead, crowdfunding, anxiety after fresh violence: Manipur hockey team ordeal
The team from Northeastern State is currently participating in the 13th Hockey India Junior Men National Championship in Rourkela, Odisha.
CHENNAI: Under normal circumstances, Laishram Ribaldo Meitei would have been part of the Manipur team that's competing at the 13th Hockey India Junior Men National Championship in Rourkela. However, things are far from normal in the Northeastern state. A few days after violence erupted in Manipur last month, Ribaldo was shot dead in Imphal East. The defender had captained the state team in the sub-junior national the previous year in Goa.
Ribaldo is no more but the Manipur boys made sure they pay tribute to the departed soul by thrashing Jammu and Kashmir 16-1 in their first match on Wednesday. The overwhelming win might be enough to lift their confidence ahead of the team's second match against Gujarat on Friday but deep down in their heart they are anxious and restless. They are worried as they don't want their near and dear ones to meet the same fate back home where fresh violence killed at least nine people late on Tuesday night.
"We are trying our best to stay competitive for the tournament but how can someone forget about his family and friends when the violence is claiming lives every day," said Thiyam Roshankumar Singh, Manipur team manager.
The fact that the team comprising 18 players reached Odisha for the tournament is a miracle in itself. Manipur Hockey organised selection trials in the middle of violence and the subsequent curfew clamped to contain the unrest. India player Chinglensana Singh Kangujam played a key role in holding trials. But the challenge was far from over as the team has to reach the venue to take part in the championship. "We requested players and their respective families to arrange funds so that they can fly out of Imphal for Kolkata. Basically, crowdfunding made it possible. The local leaders, families and friends donated generously. Once they reached Kolkata, they boarded a train for Rourkela," Chinglensana, who is scheduled to join the team on Friday, told this daily from Manipur. Chinglensana is a junior national selector and also a member of Manipur Hockey's Athletes' Commission.
In fact, the players arranged funds for their jerseys for the tournament. They paid the entry fee to the organisers only after reaching Odisha. "We knew a few vendors and once the team was selected, we informed one of them to get the jerseys ready. One of our players collected them before flying out," said Roshankumar, who had played sub-junior and senior nationals for Manipur before completing the NIS diploma course and Hockey India Level 1 coaching course.
Manipur is placed in group D alongside hosts Odisha, J&K, and Gujarat. The table toppers will progress to the quarterfinals. Despite the crisis in Manipur, Roshankumar is optimistic they will make it to the knockout round. "Today (Thursday) we executed the plans we have made to counter Odisha, which will be our toughest match in the group. If we can implement the strategies successfully during the match, we can advance to the quarterfinals. We are taking it one match at a time. Overall we have to win five matches to reach the final. If we can do that, it will be a perfect homage for Ribaldo and others who have lost their lives during the violence in the state," said the team manager.
Roshankumar was with the sub-junior women's team in Odisha last month when Ribaldo was shot dead. They had organised prayer for him on that occasion as well.
Once the tournament is over on June 22, the team has to return to Manipur. But for that as well, the team has to arrange funds. "Yes, we have to do that as we have exhausted the funds to reach here. But before that, we need to keep winning and for it to happen, the players need to be in a good frame of mind. Every day the players are learning about the ongoing violence in the state. I try to motivate them. You cannot ask them to stop watching the news as they are anxious and worried. But so far the players have responded well. I hope they maintain this spirit throughout the tournament," signed off the manager.