In a disappointing turn of events for football enthusiasts in Manipur, the state will not have any representation in this year's edition of the prestigious Durand Cup.
Last year, Manipur proudly co-hosted the tournament, and two clubs, viz. NEROCA FC and TRAU FC, had the opportunity to showcase their talents on a national stage.
However, the lack of funds and sponsors amid the ongoing unrest in the region has forced these clubs to miss out on the upcoming tournament which is set to kick off on August 3.
The Durand Cup, one of the oldest football tournaments in the world, holds a special place in the hearts of Indian football fans. It provides a platform for teams from across the country to compete and showcase their skills.
Last year's participation of NEROCA and TRAU was a testament to the footballing prowess of Manipur, a state known for its rich footballing culture.
Unfortunately, this year's tournament will lack the vibrancy and enthusiasm that Manipur's clubs brought to the competition.
The lack of funds and sponsorship amidst the unrest in the region, which has been ongoing for some time now, has created an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability. The logistics challenge has made the two prominent football clubs from Manipur to participate.
NEROCA, based in Imphal, had a commendable performance in last year's Durand Cup, reaching the quarterfinals before bowing out while it bagged the runners-up in the 2016 edition of the Cup.
TRAU, also hailing from Manipur, put up a spirited fight but couldn't progress beyond the group stage. Both clubs had earned accolades and captured the attention of football fans across the country with their talent and tenacity.
The absence of Manipur's clubs from this year's Durand Cup not only denies them a chance to compete against some of the best teams in India but also robs football enthusiasts of witnessing the skills and flair that these clubs bring to the game.
Manipur, known as the "football powerhouse" of India, has a rich legacy in producing talented players, who have represented the country at various levels.
The absence of their clubs in such a prestigious tournament is indeed a setback for the entire football community in Manipur, said general secretary of NEROCA FC M Manimohan while speaking exclusively to the Imphal Free Press.
Pointing out that NEROCA heavily rely on sponsorship deals, ticket sales, and contribution from their around 300 life members for player wages, training facilities, travel, and other essential requirements, he said NEROCA is still one month due for the player wages.
According to the general secretary, it would approximately cost the club around Rs 60 lakh to play in the upcoming Durand Cup. It is out of our budget, so we have decided to drop it, he said adding, though we get the invitation from the Army, we don't get any sponsors from the Army nor the state government.
He informed that it cost around Rs 20 lakh for NEROCA to play in the 2016 edition of the Cup even though the organiser had sponsored the lodging and food.
While the 2022 edition which was co-hosted by Manipur cost NEROCA around Rs 60 lakh, he added.
Financial challenges have always plagued football clubs, especially at the lower levels of the game, he said, adding in the case of NEROCA the lack of funds and sponsors has proven to be insurmountable hurdles, preventing their participation in this year's Durand Cup.
Football fans in Manipur will undoubtedly miss the excitement and competitiveness that NEROCA brought to the Durand Cup, he said, adding, "But the hope remains that the situation improves with emergence of sponsors, allowing Manipur's football clubs to regain their rightful place on the national stage and once again inspire young footballers in the region".
It can be concluded that there is a need to recognise the significance of supporting football clubs from regions like Manipur and explore avenues to create a sustainable and supportive ecosystem that encourages corporate sponsors to invest in the sport, thereby lessening the burden on individual clubs.