Shillong: When the world was watching France and Croatia battle it out at the 2018 session of the biggest football event, FIFA World Cup, Meghalaya was crafting another tale- a small step by the All India Football Federation with the hope of improving Indian football scenario- Baby League.
Hours before the France and Croatia battle at Luzhinki Stadium, the fourth match of Meghalaya's debut Baby League had taken place at Jawaharlal Nehru Sports Complex of Shillong.
The Baby League is the brainchild of All India Football Federation (AIFF), a league format football competition from ages 4 to 13. The pilot league was started in Mumbai and Pune last year. The state's Football Association this year, is organizing the league with Tata Trusts as main sponsors and AIFF as technical partners. Bangalore and Odisha are also expected to follow suit with their own versions of the Baby League. In the northeast, where football sentiments fly high, Mizoram also hosts its own Young Legends League in Champai. It is an independent initiative by Mizoram Football Association and a private organization.
Arki Nongrum appreciates the effort of the AIFF as it provides a competitive platform to grassroots football players. According to him, even training daily will make no sense in the absence of competition. Nongrum is the 31-year old CEO of the Meghalaya Football Asociation.
The Baby League has 12 teams: Wahlakhiat Bulls, Nongthymmai Scorpions, JNS Jaguars, among others. Apart from their assigned animal icons, team names include the school, institution or locations they represent
Duration of matches in the Baby League is of shorter duration than the standard. For the youngest group, the duration is 10 minutes per half, while for the teenagers its 25 minutes. The Baby League draws crowds, comprising mainly of the players' parents and relatives.
The Baby League is of six-months duration, much longer than the ISL and I-League, where each team plays more than 40 matches. Beyond football, the league is also about equality in terms of economy and gender.
It is mandatory for each team to register at least 10 % female players. This is done with the aim to establish an all-girls league in the future.
The Baby League finds more than 200 registrations for some of the teams, indicating a positive future for the tournament.
It can be hoped that the league will help at identifying footballers who can have a promising future in the game, and their proper grooming can mean a bright future for Indian Football.