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How Kuki and Meitei footballers played together to help India lift the SAFF U16 trophy

First Published: 12th September, 2023 19:12 IST

Out of the 23 players in the Indian squad, 16 hail from strife-torn Manipur. Of the 16, 11 are Meiteis, 4 are Kukis and one is a Meitei Pangal (Manipuri

Back in their home state Manipur, their communities are fighting each other, burning each other’s homes and families. But for Bharat Lairenjam, a Meitei from Bishnupur district’s Nambol and Levis Zangminlun, a Kuki from Churachandpur, playing the game together to win was utmost on their minds. They were, not even for a moment bothered about which community or religion they belong to. The only community or religion they knew they belong to are football and India.

It was two brilliant goals by these two magnificent players that helped India lift the SAFF Under-16 Championship trophy. India trounced Bangladesh 2-0 in the final match played on Sunday in Thimphu, Bhutan.

Out of the 23 players in the Indian squad, an impressive 16 hailed from strife-torn Manipur. Of the 16, 11 were Meiteis, 4 Kukis and one Meitei Pangal (Manipuri Muslim).

Bharat Lairenjam netted the first goal in the 8th minute, while Levis Zangminlun scored the winning goal in the 74th minute.

Despite the challenges and sorrow prevailing in Manipur, these young players exhibited remarkable unity, tranquillity, and just focussed on winning the trophy.

An elated Bharat said that he was so happy to score the goal since it was his “goal of the championship. Though players belong to different communities in the team, we mingle together happily in good team spirit,” he said.

“My teammate, midfielder Levis told me before the match that I should score to win the match, and his (Levis) second goal was a crucial one for India to grab the championship title. I rushed towards him and gave him a tight hug to celebrate the goal,” he added.
On the current crisis besieging Manipur, Bharat said he would like to see the state returning back to normalcy like the good old days.

The Indian striker dreams to continue playing for the country at the senior level as well by further polishing his skills.

Levis stated he felt nervous when he stepped out in the field for the final match. “However, my confidence came as I scored the second and last crucial goal,” said Levis who plays for Srinidhi Deccan FC, Hyderabad.

Commenting on the ongoing conflict in Manipur, and his teammates belonging to different communities of the state, Levis asserted that “football served as their common passion, uniting and allowing them to set aside their differences.”

Levis joined the Hyderabad academy just last year, a decision that brought pride to him, also his hometown, state and the country.
Levis’s remarkable journey and his heartfelt appeal for peace serve as a testament to the power of sports in transcending boundaries and promoting unity, even in the most challenging of circumstances.

Abbas Shingjamayum, the Meitei Pangal player from Manipur who bagged the “Most Valuable Player” and Top Scorer (with three goals) in the Championship quipped “we didn’t talk even an iota about conflict in Manipur, and instead focused on football and team spirit.”

Lauding the glory of the Indian team, All Manipur Football Association (AMFA) general secretary Lairikyengbam Jyotirmoy Roy said that in games there is no boundary of ethnicity as manifested by the Indian squad of the SAFFU U-16 Championship.

Also Read : Manipur comes together to welcome players who helped India lift SAFF U-16 Championship trophy

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