"The best way for Mizoram to make a name for themselves in a country as big as India is football." That is Mizoram Football Association secretary Mr. Lalnghinglova Hmar's primary motivation to develop football in his state. Over the last three years, he has made it his mission to make Mizoram a football superpower — and his crowning glory came when they won the Santosh Cup this month.
But while much has been said about their rise, what is forgotten is the struggle — the nitty-gritties, the foundation, the hard work and the initial thrust that is so hard to come by.
Hmar has been the mastermind behind the plan to take Mizoram to new heights — and as he said, to make them noticed through a sport that is secondary in the country. Hmar isn't even a full-time employee of the Mizoram FA. He is in fact a business editor at a vernacular daily — but has shot to the limelight in football administration after creating a brilliant football system in the state.
So, what is this blueprint? How does it work? Where does the money come from? Here's breaking down the Mizoram master plan: Infrastructure "Mizoram doesn't have any natural grass." What? "Yes, there's too much rain -- we play in the mud." So how do your teams play such fluid football? "Artificial turfs." Mizoram has three artificial turfs in the state — two in Aizwal and one in Lunglei. Another one is coming up in Champhai in two months time. Hmar tells us that the state government has spent about Rs 4 crore on every turf — that's a Rs 16 crore investment right away in turfs. "This is a football-friendly state. The government has been very supportive in developing the game.
It eventually comes down to a solid support system," Hmar says. So how hard is it to get kids to play the game? "You know, playing football in recesses during school doesn't happen here. That's not the culture. Schools don't have playgrounds here — football in Mizoram is an after school activity where children play in parks. Considering it is the most popular sport in the state, it isn't hard to attract people.
Maybe initially to the Mizoram Premier League, but not to play." Football players of the Mizoram team celebrate after winning the final match of the 68th National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy 2014. AFP Football players of the Mizoram team celebrate after winning the final match of the 68th National Football Championship for the Santosh Trophy 2014.
AFP Grassroots Much has been said about FIFA's grassroots programme being implemented in India by the AIFF. One cannot judge on whether it has worked or not — at least not until the under-17 World Cup in 2017. But one things is for sure — as an AIFF source told Firstpost, no one 'checks' whether coaches learning grassroots training are implementing the programme in school or their coaching sessions.
In Mizoram, it's different: "There's constant checking whether grassroots coaches are applying what they learn in grassroots development programmes. Even the remotest areas are checked -- but work still to be done. We're now going to start grassroots programmes in sub-towns to bring more coaches from rural areas -- our development officer makes sure one style of football is followed throughout the state."
Any state football association can conduct a grassroots programme — but Mizoram makes sure it doesn't stop there. The checking part is where the seriousness shows. The smaller the state, the easier to develop football? "Bhaichung Bhutia said in a recent meeting that Sikkim, despite being smaller couldn't do what we're doing here. It's not about the size of the state — maybe the open expanses and culture makes it easy — but money-wise we're a poor state.
It's all about planning and constantly thinking about the future," Hmar says. There was a time when a state would be compared to Goa or Kolkata when it came to football.
Now it's all about Mizoram: "Well, I admit bigger and richer states will do better if they replicate our system." The system "Eight districts -- eight FAs. As for tournaments, we hold a sub-junior (U14) and junior (U17) tournament every year. Then there's the MZFA Cup and the Mizoram Premier League," Hmar rattles off. There's also an inter-village tournament where more than 200 teams take part. So how do you spot talent? "All these are scouted. We don't have paid scouts but we have a technical committee made up of coaches and ex-players. Every tournament, every game is seen."
If you happen to be in Mizoram watching a league match, don't be surprised to see a few I-League suits sitting there to spot talent too. The Mizoram Premier League This is the money-spinner if you want to think of it that way. The Mizoram Premier League is what Hmar is most excited to talk about. "We always wanted to start a league since we don't have an I-League team of our own (this is next on his wishlist).
Initially it was very hard to extract money from sponsors. They support football but when it comes to money, a product has to be good to sell. And it's here that we struck a unique sponsorship plan with Zonet cable." It's basically genius, this deal — Zonet pays Mizoram's FA Rs 25 lakhs a year (they've committed to five years) and holds all the commercial rights of the league.
Zonet goes and sells their ads to make money. They also broadcast all the matches live. As Hmar puts it, it's a 'win-win'. What about the clubs? "The prize money for the league is Rs 7 lakhs. Every game the winning team gets Rs 3000 and the losing team gets Rs 2000.
The FA and the two participating clubs split the gate receipts 50-50. So there is incentive to play," Hmar tells us. Tickets are priced at Rs 30 for an adult and Rs 10 for a child.