By Monojit Mandal
Somewhere behind the athlete you’ve become and the hours of practice and the coaches who have pushed you is a little girl who fell in love with the game and never looked back… play for her,” ~ Mia Hamm, two-time Olympic gold medallist, and two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup champion.
Here in the heart of the city, a woman, Sankidaroi Sajem (Sanki), has been walking these lines with poise.
The 29-year-old footballer from Lumnongrim Dewlieh, Umsning, is already a stimulus for many young women for her achievements at a young age.
Sajem, a graduate from Shillong College, has been a coach and manager of Meghalaya girls’ and women’s football teams. She is also an official in the Meghalaya Baby League.
Adding another feather to her already glorious bonnet, Sajem efficaciously participated in a blind football referee training course in Pattaya, Thailand, in September. It was organised by the International Blind Sports Federation (IBSF).
Sajem took an interest in blind football during the 3rd North East Blind Football Tournament, which was held in Shillong in January and gradually broadened her involvement in the sport.
Talking about her participation in the blind football referee training course in Pattaya, Sajem said that the course was organised by the Sports Association for the Blind of Thailand, or SABT. Mariano Travaglino was the referee co-ordinator from Argentina as well as instructor at IBSF. It was a learning experience for her and she came to know about the rules and regulations of blind football.
“Our Day 1 started with theory session about the laws of blind football. On the next day, practical session was held which included instruction on pitch placement and provided an opportunity to put on eyeshades to experience the sport first-hand from the point of view of a blind player. The blind football referees were then given a chance to act as officials,” said Sajem.
Sajem’s interest in blind football grew as she found this arena unexplored and quite interesting at the same time. Moreover, being a footballer herself, she considers this as a
service towards the game and feels happy to experience something new in a way.
“Blind football is quite interesting and different from normal football. It’s a good experience with them and also I feel like a service too. I’m a football player so I got excited to know and share my experience with the blind players and I was one of them during the competition as a referee,” she added.
However, blind football is a different ball game altogether and here Sajem said that she faced several challenges as the rules of the game are completely alien to regular football. Players here are more prone to injuries and so the referee has to keep a sharp eye all the time to avoid such mishaps or any kind of accidental injuries.
“The main thing is that we need to understand the rules of the game and to understand the players as referee. We need to have a keen observation during the game otherwise there will be more injury problems among the players. As a referee we need to be fit in the pitch all around,” she explained.
When asked, what are her plans to add value to the arena of blind football, Sajem said firstly she wants to have more competitions and games in blind football all over India. She also wants to train and coach blind footballers of Shillong to enhance their skills. Sajem said that she is very much interested to have a sport career with blind football team as well.
“I am a new referee of the International Blind Sports Federation and I need to do more games all around India. I need to work hard… Also, I want to spend my sport career with a blind football team,” she added.
Sajem, apart from her new found love in blind football, is actively associated with the Meghalaya Women’s football team as a coach and manager and she said she enjoys responsibilities and playing many roles at the same time.
However, she feels that there is a lot of exertion to do in the arena of women’s football in India and particularly in Meghalaya. She feels that there should be equal focus if not more on developing women’s football as in case of men’s football.
Sajem also rooted for more tournaments and leagues for women’s football like Shillong Premier League and Indian Super League, both of which are for men.
“There are some differences between men’s and women’s football in India because we have a league in every state for men. But for women’s football not every state can conduct a league,” Sajem said.
“From my side, as a football player I want to have some of the tournaments for women’s football like the men have some leagues in Shillong, organised by the MFA (Meghalaya Football Association), SSA (Shillong Sports Association) every year. However, if they can organise some of the tournaments in districts, it will be helpful for the girls who love to play football. Football isn’t just a pastime activity anymore but a serious career option as well,” she added.
Lastly, before signing off, Sajem said the Baby League is a good move by the Meghalaya and the
Indian football associations to cultivate and develop young talent right from a tender age and produce professional footballers of the future.
Football Association which is organising the Meghalaya Baby League really helps to bring out young and talented children from every corner of the society and develop a footballing culture which is going to help Indian football immensely in
the coming days,” Sajem said.
Photo by Monojit Mandal