Photos by Hrishikesh Chowdhury for Express
In the beginning of this year, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced its plan to roll out baby leagues (competitive football matches for kids aged 6 to 13 based on South American and European model) across the country.
Now, following Maharashtra, Kerala, Karnataka, Mizoram and Meghalaya, Assam inaugurated the Greater Guwahati Football League at the city’s Nehru Stadium on Sunday.
The registrations that took place in the weeks preceding the inauguration saw a turn out of nearly 400 kids. “The basic goal of this initiative is to instil a competitive spirit among kids at a very young age, who otherwise do not get the opportunity to do so,” said Ankur Dutta, Secretary of the Assam Football Association, which partnered with local sports management company Sportscraft Management and Guwahati City FC (GCFC) to organise AIFF’s baby league initiative in Assam.
The league will carry on for four months and will see 56 teams participate. “Maximum kids have registered in the under-13 age groups,” said Darick Ranjan Deka, Director, Sportscraft Management, adding that the four age groups include 6-7 age category, 8-9 category, 10-11 category and 12-13 category.
“There are girls but till now they do not have a separate team. Only if there are more than 3 players in a certain age group, then the girls can form their own separate team,” said Deka.
On Sunday — the opening day — ten games were played. The youngest category (Under-7) saw the GTC Rhinos beat Rajbari AC Sanghi. Said Dr. Razdan Sarim Rahman, a parent of Zedaan Abdur Rahman, 6, one of the kids participating in Sunday’s match: “Such events organised on a regular basis will not only provide our children to inculcate the importance of sports in their life but also to engage with children from other states.”
The NorthEast United FC — the professional football club that competes in the Indian Super League — currently has no players from Assam. “We have keen footballers in villages and cities across the state — however, football is still considered an amateur sport in Assam, dominated by institutions like the police, the army, the railways or individual companies. We need clubs to come forward to promote football,” said Dutta.
Dutta also said that the league will be replicated in different districts across Assam next year. “The aim is to identify potential at the grassroots level,” he said, “And at a young age. Messi and Ronaldo started played competitive football at the age of 6. Here boys get that sort of exposure only at 17.”