Being a Football Referee in Mizoram: In Conversation with F. Zohmingliani

Being a Football Referee in Mizoram: In Conversation with F. Zohmingliani

in Interview
Published on: 21 November 2018

Lalsangliani Ralte

Lalsangliani Ralte is currently pursuing a PhD Degree from the Department of English, Mizoram University. She is a football fan who writes sports articles as a freelancer and also works with, a sports website based in Aizawl. She also maintains a blog where she posts her works which include poems and articles.

F. Zohmingliani, the only active category 2 referee among Mizos, speaks about her journey in football refereeing at the state and national levels. Mizoram, October, 2017.


My name is F. Zohmingliani; my father’s name is F. Daniela and my mother’s name is F. Lalrintluangi; everyone calls me 'Nu-te'. I was brought up at South Vanlaiphai; I was born in Muallianpui because Muallianpui is my mother’s native village and I was born there while she had gone home for a visit. In 1991, we shifted from South Vanlaiphai to Lunglei and we’ve settled at College Veng, Lunglei since then. We are four siblings; two girls and two boys. We, as a family, have always had keen interest in sports and this mutual interest has greatly helped me towards my profession today. My father, in his younger days, was a hockey player in Assam Regiment; he’s 72 years old now, but he plays badminton every morning and evening. I too join him and together, the father and daughter duo, we play badminton every day.


I’ve been an avid sports person since my childhood and had dabbled in various sports disciplines: hockey, football, volleyball, and even boxing. At Vanlaiphai, I would practice football with the boys. Back then, I would practice football alongside S. Malsawmtluanga, the famous Mizo footballer we know today as Mama. Mama and I, we’re second cousins; our grandfathers being siblings. With regard to hockey, I had represented Mizoram several times. I have also represented Mizoram in football as a player several times; I was in the team that represented Mizoram in National Olympic Games in 2008, which was held at Guwahati.


I need to describe a bit how I started my journey as a referee. It’s not that I was not keen on playing football; but as we played outside the state, I realized that I had never seen Mizo match officials on such occasions. I thought that was dismaying. To play outside the state, we’d travel on trains and incur heavy expenses to the state government. There were times when a referee would display partiality or show a bias to a side. As such, it was disappointing and I was disheartened. During those times, I told myself, 'The fact that there are no Mizo match officials is a grave issue.'  In terms of the game and also as players, Mizos have been recognized by the AIFF (All India Football Federation). But the fact that there is no Mizo match official makes it incomplete. So then the desire to become a match official began in me.


So I said to myself, 'Yes, I’ll do it, I’ll do it with all I can; and if I’ll do it, I’ll make sure that I’ll be among the national referees at the least.' Thus, I prepared myself. Because I had no knowledge about the process, I enquired from the authorities of District Football Association (DFA), Lunglei. The DFA organized an exam for refereeing in 2007 and I sat for the exam. By the grace of God, I passed the exams with flying colours.


The profession of a referee is very different. It’s a difficult and strenuous profession. This is because we have to take a physical fitness test along with each test that we take. After the 2007 DFA test, there was an MFA (Mizoram Football Association) test. There were several criteria to complete the MFA test including written exam and fitness test. For you to understand it, it’s like a student completing an academic session after sitting for exams at the end of the year, and can be promoted to higher class only after clearing the exams. We too, could only get promotion after the end of a year’s experience.


I became an MFA third class referee in 2009. After waiting for another year; and if exams are not held every year, we have no chance to give exams. I cleared the exams for second class in 2012. I became a first class referee in 2013. In 2014, I appeared for the National Referee exams at Salt Lake City, Kolkata.


To become a referee, one has to overcome many obstacles. one can’t just sit for a referee exam because s/he wants to or s/he is interested in it all of a sudden. Even I faced many obstacles to reach where I am now. Financially speaking, I overcame many problems to become a referee. Exams for National Referee are quite problematic. It’s not an exam that can be cleared at once; sometimes one has to go two or three times [to clear the exams].  I too, went two or three times to clear this exam.


When I was first summoned for the exam, I had to take physical fitness test apart from the written test at Salt Lake. After that, I was summoned for a practical test to Cuttack. For viva, I was called to Kochi. I was called for tests to very distant places. All the travel expenses were borne by me and so it was very exhausting. Since I do not come from an affluent family, we had to fight really hard; we had to borrow money so that I could complete the exams.


What I realized from my struggles is that someone could be physically fit and might be doing very well at the practical. But if there isn’t finance to back him/her up, s/he might not appear for the exams. Our DFA and MFA authorities may take note of this issue. They might want to look into someone’s background to see if s/he deserves a financial back-up.


I want to stress that there are many obstacles on the way; one has to be courageous, diligent and hard working to become successful. For those aspiring to become a referee, I believe that the top priority to have is a fair mind. All officials need to have an impartial mind. We have to be just and fair. If we are not, then it is the team or the club that suffers eventually.


In terms of fitness, we need to be fit, physically and mentally; have a sound mind. In terms of preparation, personally, I prepared myself with all possibilities. I’m a national referee; but this doesn’t mean that I can just sit and sleep around. This is because we have to appear for fitness tests twice a year; after every six months. If I don’t make it in the test, I won’t be able to referee in any national levels. In our profession, we have to travel quite a lot. My mother tells me, 'Nu-te, take some rest while you’re home.' But I tell her, 'Nu, I can’t rest. My job requires me to maintain my fitness.' And so I don’t rest. We have to be very careful about our lifestyle as well. We can’t indulge in drinking and smoking.


For those who will be following my path later on, I want them to keep this in mind. We Mizos have a very carefree attitude towards everything. To talk about our dressing style, we are very casual about it. We go to dining rooms with sandals on; but when we go outside the state, that is not permitted in our profession. We have to wear shoes. With regard to manners, there is so much we need to learn as well.


Besides, I’m not a well-educated person like many others. I completed my higher secondary and didn’t study further because of the financial situation in our family and mainly, because I was more into sports and games. I had to struggle with language; and as you can see for yourself, I’m a little woman who’s not very attractive. I had to learn many new things again. I went to Spoken English classes and because I was computer illiterate, I went to basic computer classes. That was how I prepared myself.


But for those of you who plan on becoming a referee, you have to speak English so much better. Physically, look at how tiny I am; these are the things I want to mention about how I’ve prepared. I’ve been blessed by God in all my preparations and endeavors. It is indeed an excruciating profession; we hardly have time to rest and our profession doesn’t go well with idleness.


Regarding future plans; what I want others to know is that there are different criteria in football refereeing. There are Categories 5, 4, 3, 2 for who have appeared for the exams recently. I am a Category 2 National referee and my next goal is Category 1 FIFA. I, as a person, am very aspirational, and not only for myself but for the whole Mizo tribe as well. I would dream, when we watch TV and a Women’s World Cup match is being played, say between Brazil and England. And I’d think, if the referee of the match would be a Mizo woman, how great would that be!


As for myself, my future plan is to reach the highest that is possible for me. But that’s all up to God and we can have no say in it.


To reiterate on what I’d said earlier, financial back-up is crucial to do something seriously. I have realized that my fellow referees are given jobs by their respective state governments; jobs that they’re qualified for: in railways, sport departments and such. With their steady income, they are able to provide for themselves without much difficulty.


I still have so much to go through in my future goals. I might have to go to foreign countries and the MFA will lend me their support however they can. Yet for my own sake, I would wish to have a steady job, however small, so that I could maintain and support myself financially. During my first year of training, I had to borrow laptops from my fellow-trainees because I had no facilities to study with except for books. I somehow could manage because of the benevolence of my friends and the authorities. I would wish that our authorities take note of these hurdles. Having a steady job is very important because there is much difference in the assessors when it comes to assessing.  I am taking advantage of this opportunity to talk about all these because of the convenience.


My success, so to say; the main success after I chose to pursue this profession began in 2012. It was in October, I can’t recollect the date. We had a Referee Development Course Training at RG Stadium, Mualpui. It was organised by MFA. Four instructors came from AIFF. I attended the training. There were 43 trainees and I was the only female participant. We went through numerous tests: fitness, written test, video test, and others. Of the 43 trainees, only three trainees, including myself, passed the fitness test.


Perhaps I was fortunate then, or perhaps I did well, not a month since that training, the AIFF instructors summoned me for National Referee Training at Cuttack, Orissa. I prepared to attend the training. As a player, I had travelled outside the state under the custody of others. This time however, I was to travel alone. Maybe because of my enthusiasm for refereeing, I was not disheartened to travel alone and that I would face language barriers didn’t discourage me from going. I looked at the map of India, studied the place that I was travelling to. So I went by flight and arrived at the venue for the training.


What I want to add, for my fellow youths to note, is that I could easily give them my basic introduction - my name, my locality. As our training began, I sat in the training without understanding a single word for two days. I could not make sense of the way English was pronounced. The instructors were from different communities. I told myself, 'I’ll surely understand the language. I’ll sit here and eventually, I’ll be able to make out what they’re saying.'


In the course of that training, I had a stomach ache and was dizzy. I was unable to tell others in English and Hindi that I was suffering from stomach ache and dizziness. But I had brought along a Hindi-Mizo-English translation book. I looked for the sentence, 'My stomach aches', 'I am dizzy'. I showed my friends those sentences in the book and they understood my plight. Such was how I fought and how I overcame.


Because I had nothing to be proud of in terms of language skills, I told myself that I was going to make a mark in fitness and match conduct. If others could do it, so could I. I was determined to be the first.There were FIFA women referees in our training. As we prepared for fitness test, I told myself, I’m running two steps ahead of that FIFA referee. I came first in that fitness test.


From then, I no longer need to make acquaintances with the instructors. Here, I’m called Nu-te but I’m known outside the state as Z. Fanai. Ever since, all the instructors were able to call, Fanai, Fanai. It became very clear that God was opening a different path for me. I gave my all in other arenas because of my limitations in language. I arrived home with the knowledge of the severity of limitations in language. I began taking language classes. Soon after, I was being called for duties.The following year, in 2013, I was called to be a match official at Junior National Championship at Cuttack, Orissa, the very place I completed my first training. So I went, and because I’d been there earlier, I reached Cuttack much more easily.


Here in Mizoram, we don’t have to give a speech or lectures when officiating a match. We simply come and blow the whistle. But there, we’re expected to give lectures or briefing in English. But I couldn’t speak English, then. Nor could I speak in Hindi. I was very frustrated. Then I recalled the diagram that we’d learnt in our training. So I took along a blank full-scape paper. There, I drew a picture of a field. At the referee zone, I simply said, 'My duty'. I began my duty from then on.That was my first ever duty. The next duty was in 2013, towards the end of the same year. I was called to officiate the Senior Nationals at Golaghat, Assam.


I was called often since then. In 2015, I was called at the National Games, one of the most esteemed in India, held at Thrissur, Kerala. Later, in the same year, I went to Jabalpur. I won’t be able to tell you all the places I’d gone for duty tonight but just the prominent ones. In 2016, I was also called for duty at the South Asian Games which was held at Shillong. It was an international match. I was also given a duty at the qualifying and final matches at the Women’s I-league tournament held in Delhi.


Apart from these duties, there are also training courses that I attended. One such is the FIFA Women Referee Course. In such courses, the instructor comes from outside the nation. Our instructor was from Australia.We were made to appear exams like the regular exams. I have gone for training programmes under FIFA thrice: 2014, 2015 and 2016 in Delhi and Gwalior. This year, 2017, there will be another training under the same programme from 5-9th November at Kochi, Kerala.  I am planning to go there. I have to give a report on the 4th of November.


Several times, I’ve been asked about my opinion of football in Mizoram. Earlier, I was of the opinion that football is not a game suited for us Mizos. This was because we didn’t have physical fitness; no coach; no available equipments and no good field to practice. During those days, there wasn’t much that the MFA or district authorities could do. But now, due to the endeavors of the DFA authorities, I feel that football can be pursued as a profession.


We’re all aware that Mizoram, though low in population, has created milestones and history in football. If we take a look at the leading football clubs within India, and I-league matches, there’s a small number of clubs where there are no Mizo players. As such, there are doors of opportunity that are continuously being opened for Mizos today.


For someone who plans to pursue football as a career, I firmly believe that passion, dedication, courage, self-control and the ability to live under discipline are necessary in the utmost towards the achievement of success. One cannot be successful without diligence. Footballers today are very fortunate. They can receive grassroots training  from six years of age till they reach fourteen years. We have greatly benefitted from this grassroots football initiated by MFA.


I’m sure we’ll be reaping more benefits through this program; even though we are benefitting from it already. Another important point I want to stress is that an aspirant footballer should not give up his studies or become lenient. Education is very important. If we aren’t able to communicate, we’re next to nothing. It is my advice to our footballers and especially to those who are still studying, I want them to have football go hand in hand with their studies. I have had first-hand experiences of the barrier brought about by language.


Football has become a viable career option today as long as they keep studying well. I would also want to let my fellow youths, especially the female youths, to take a look at me. This is me: a very tiny woman who has no delicate beauty or figure to boast about. But if I, this pygmy of a woman can do it, I want the other youths to feel challenged by my example; I want to challenge them. And especially to the girls; I want us to rid our preconceived notions, 'It’s impossible for us women.' I too am a girl; I do what I do today; I can do what the men do.


When I began my career as a referee, I would run around Thuamluaia Field [Lunglei]. Many would tell me, 'Ah, you’re a girl. You’ll end up nowhere; You’ll be nothing.' But I told myself, 'I’ll work my hardest and the rest depend on God. But I can achieve the highest that is for me to achieve.' You too, can do it. And you might not have the same talent as I do, but there are so much better opportunities for women in sports. If women in other places could do, there’s nothing that you cannot do.


Like I said, I don’t believe that all of you possess the same talent as I do. There are many talents. For some, it is singing; for others it is writing. But whatever talent you have, work on it so as to obtain blessings from God. There is success in hard work and dedication; and I am able to say that because I’ve experienced it. In my journey upwards, there are so many things I want to say; there are so many to be thankful about.


I give my thanks to God who has brought me here and given me this success. I give my endless thanks to my parents and my siblings who have helped me to be where I am today. Without your back-up and support, I’m nothing; I’ll never even be here. To the DFA and MFA authorities; I wish to convey my gratitude because of all your dedication and hard work has made it possible for me to be here.


I would also like to convey my deepest gratitude to all the people who shown their endless support and encouragement.