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Indian Women's Football: Absence of 7 Manipuri players - AIFF asks players to sort out differences with coach in camp

28 Mar 2019, 12:59 IST

The AIFF has maintained a deafening silence on the issue
The AIFF has maintained a deafening silence on the issue

Note: This story was originally published on 28th March, 2019, under the Headline, "Indian Football: AIFF still mum on absence of 7 Manipuri players in women's team". It has been updated on 29 March, 2019 to reflect the AIFF's response.

It has now been almost four months since 7 players, led by captain Bala Devi, voiced their concerns about the team's coaches, and then refused to join the Indian Women's Football Team camp, ahead of the Hero Gold Cup that was held in Bhubaneswar.

In a letter dated 20th December, which is in Sportskeeda's possession, the players had written to AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das, alleging ill-treatment by the team's coaches.

"Head Coach [Maymol Rocky] and Assistant Coach [Chaoba Devi] of the National Team are not able to bring the team together and in fact play divide and rule policy leading to a stifling situation in the camp and the team," the letter reads.

Although India won the recently concluded SAFF Women's Championship, the team's recent form has not exactly been encouraging. India lost to both Nepal and Myanmar at home, in not even making the final of the Gold Cup in Bhubaneswar. After that, they finished sixth in the Turkish Women's Cup, even losing to Kazakhstan, who are ranked lower than India.

One of those players chose to speak anonymously to Scroll, fearing non-selection for future national teams.

“The problems between us and Chaoba Devi started long ago. Some of us do not play for her team Kryphsa and play for other teams in Manipur. That in turn, led to her singling some players out,” she said.

Bala Devi, though, did play for Kryphsa in the last edition of the Indian Women's League. She was the top-scorer as well, with 12 goals in the tournament, as the team lost in the semifinal.

The players allege that the coaches' policy led to a divide within the team, as a result of which they weren't able to play well enough, even in the game against Nepal in the first round of the Olympic Qualifers. India drew that game 1-1, but they still made it to the next round.

"One of them even used expletives to many of us now and then which are intolerable."

The refusal of the AIFF or the members of the team to even acknowledge the situation is a sign of the ill-health of the Indian team. And the fans are far from happy.

"Would there be so much ignorance of a situation where Sunil Chhetri pulls out of a camp citing issues such as this?" they ask.

And they're right. When Chhetri pulled out the squad for India's friendly against Jordan in November, it was the talk of the town. Although both the AIFF and Chhetri's club Bengaluru FC clarified that he was only sitting out because of an ankle injury, speculation was rife on the state of the relationship between Chhetri and then head coach Stephen Constantine.

Constantine even had to clarify in one particularly heated exchange, later, that there was no friction between the two, and that Chhetri was only missing because he was injured.

So, the question here is, why the apathy when it comes to the women's team? It's easy to say that it's because the women's game is considerably less popular, but that doesn't mean that either the Federation or the coaches can be allowed to get away without a proper explanation of the situation.

Some of the players in question, in this case, are Chhetri-like figures in the Women's Team.

Bala Devi has 36 international goals to her name. She was the captain when India won the last SAFF Cup in 2016.

Kamala Devi, who has made 61 international appearances, is also one of the players boycotting the national team and was the AIFF’s Woman Footballer of the Year 2017.

This is a sad situation. Some of the seniormost and most important players in the team have literally fallen at the AIFF's feet for help, saying women's football in the country is "in dire straits". And what do they get in return from the AIFF? A cold shoulder. Silence.

Should the AIFF or the team's support staff respond in any way or form, the response will be added to this story.

UPDATE: An official from the AIFF, who did not wish to be named, said the Federation would back the coach in this saga.

"If the coach had problems with them, she never would have picked them for the camp. We sent them their flight tickets, they didn't show up, so the fault is with the players," he said.

The AIFF official also said the players should sort their issues out with the coach, and the best way to do that would've been to attend the National Team camp, and ensure the differences were sorted out amicably.

"They've missed out," he said, "The number of games the women's team has played this year, they probably wouldn't have played in the last two years. It's their loss."

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