Mizoram, a beautiful hilly state with a population of roughly 10 lakh, has a sporting culture which begins from the roadsides of the rugged mountains and advances all the way to recently sprung-up stadiums. Within a short period of time, the state has witnessed significant developments in various sport disciplines, indigenous and otherwise. Media, in the form of social networking and print, and live telecasts of leagues and tournaments by local cable channels, has made significant contributions to the recent growth and popularity of this sporting culture within the state. Socio-economic growth has facilitated opportunities for sponsorship of various leagues and tournaments by private and government sectors.
All these factors, in turn, have validated the pursuit of sports from mere hobbies to substantial means of livelihood. At present, 19 recognised sports associations have been affiliated to the Ministry of Sports and Youth Services of Mizoram and each association is allotted a training center by the ministry at strategic locales within the state. It is no wonder that many new names are being added to the list of achievers in various sports disciplines each year, nationally and internationally.
Football is the most popular game in Mizoram today. Achievements in the game have brought fame and recognition to the state. The game attracts individuals across gender barriers and has imprinted itself strongly on the social life of the Mizos. However, with all the development and glory, a fact remains that it is still widely considered to be a man’s game. This is evident in the fact that women football players, though several in number, feature very less in the emerging narratives of Mizoram football. Though Mizoram plays host to several talented women players who are encouraged and supported through many sincere initiatives, various challenges continue to impede their growth.
One of the primary challenges to the women’s game is societal values and prejudice. Brought up in a patriarchal society dictated not only by tradition but also by religion, many Mizo women are sidelined due to the prevalent mindset that they are supposed to be ‘home-makers’ and adhere to the traditional demarcation of roles in the society. In traditional Mizo society, the man is the protector, hunter and warrior while the woman is the nurturer and home-keeper. This demarcation of roles in Mizo society means that a woman would not actively participate in communal activities unless they toe the line and this idea has become quite cemented over generations. However, traditional demarcation of roles within the society has been minimised due to the spread of modern education and changes brought about by time.
Women football players in Mizoram yearn for a chance to play official football tournaments; however, they are few and far between. The opportunity arrives occasionally when inter-state Independence Day football tournaments take place and even then, the women's side is only hosted as an afterthought. Private sponsors are usually hard to come by for women tournaments. What football fans in Mizoram do not often observe is that women football players go through similar trials and trainings as men do to render them eligible to play the much beloved game. With proper encouragement, they would be able to enter the women’s national football team who are 56th in FIFA ranking as of 2017. However, it would not be fair to say that women’s football has been completely bereft of development.
Mizoram women’s team was the champion at the national Sub-Junior Girls’ Football tournament held in 2015. In 2017, Aizawl FC represented Mizoram to take part in the first Women’s Professional League launched by AIFF in January that year and participated in the Junior Girls’ National Football Championship held at Cuttack, Odisha. The Mizoram Football Association (MFA) organised I-Day Women’s Tournament 2017 in which teams from colleges within Aizawl participated. If women are included, they will get a chance to represent their state in events like the North East Games and Subroto Cup (where, incidentally, Govt. Chawngfiang Middle School, Mizoram is the current champions at the Sub-Junior level).
The MFA, on its part, has been putting in efforts for the promotion of women’s football. For women participating in out of state football tournaments, the MFA takes charge with providing a proper coach who accompanies and trains the players during the course of the tournament. The players are provided an allowance and lodging by the MFA. ‘Chances are high for recognition with the women’s team,’ says Peter Lalzawmliana. Lalzawmliana has been with the MFA’s women committee since its birth four years ago and has been the manager of the women’s team. He claims that a women’s committee has been set up for the development of women’s football as an independent committee and not just a sub-committee with its own priorities.
Although the MFA has not promoted women’s football with the same focus as it has the men’s, the neglect is slowly but surely being corrected. MFA has thus planned a professional women’s league from the 2018 season. This league is likely to be modelled on the Mizoram Premier League (MPL) that had its birth in 2012.
According to Peter Lalzawmliana, women football players selected to play for the state are given indoor training at the Rajiv Gandhi Stadium, Aizwal. They are provided with an AIFF C-License holder coach starting from 2017 along with a physiotherapist and a manager. MFA has also taken initiatives to organise the Sunfeast Cup 2017 in Aizawl. This Under-13 and Under-16 team tournament will feature women for the first time in both age-groups.
MFA has already hosted a successful grassroots programme in Mizoram, and is intent on cultivating young talent further. It hopes that the under-12 League will serve as another stepping stone towards youth development. MFA authorities also deem it necessary to include at least 5 per cent women to train in this programme, valuable experience from which will prepare them for future national championships.
Mizoram is also taking advantage of Mission 11 Million, a football initiative by AIFF and India’s sports ministry aimed towards taking the game to 12,000 schools in 37 cities across the country. Following trials, 20 girls have already been selected to go through further observation under MFA.
Achievements may not be aplenty in terms of statistics for Mizoram women’s football. However according to MFA statistics, the women players have reached the quarterfinals level in every national championship they have participated in. Along with the growth of football, several initiatives have sprung up in other disciplines as well. The state has a full-fledged training centre for women’s hockey in Thenzawl. The newly established Mizoram Basketball Association has nine registered women’s clubs under its wings and will be organising an all-women’s basketball league in the near future. Women’s volleyball has been a part of sporting culture in Mizoram for a long time, and its development is at the level of the men’s. Other sport disciplines such as boxing, wushu, taekwondo and karate have several women participants who have gone on to achieve laurels even outside the state and the country.
Many women are making a name for themselves in sports disciplines and the earlier assumption of women players being ‘mannish’ or ‘tomboys’ has undergone a sea change. K. Lalthangmawii, a first semester student of Pachhunga University College and a member of the PUC women’s football team, believes that a girl does not have to conform to masculine stereotypes to play football: ‘Growing up in Thekpui, a small village in Champhai district, I had no women friends to play football with. But that didn’t deter me from playing football at our local fields with the boys of my age group. I’ve never been a tomboy and the boys I played football with never treated me differently because I was a girl.’
Patriarchal beliefs that impede the growth of women’s football have also undergone change over the years. Especially, with the rise in standard of education, women are no longer seen as only homemakers. Many are now breadwinners for the family and many are entering the world of entrepreneurship and business. Men, especially in the capital city of the state, do not view women as their subordinates. ‘If a woman puts her heart to it, there’s no limit for her,’ says Dr C. Lalchhandama, a veterinary doctor. ‘Why, we have a woman AIFF referee who will soon qualify for the prestigious FIFA referee. We men can’t even aspire to reach the same level of success.’ Lalremsanga, a local businessman, disposes similar attitude, ‘If my sister comes to me one day telling me that she’s pursuing football as a career alternative, definitely I’ll laugh at her. Not because I scoff at her choice of profession because I’d never imagined my sister to become a professional footballer. But if she’s serious about it, there’s no way I’m going to stop her from pursuing her goals.’
While discussing the challenges, opportunities and achievements, it would be important to view it from the larger context of women’s football in India. The women’s game is actually neglected by the AIFF at the national level itself. After several years of deliberation, AIFF made a half-hearted attempt to launch a women’s league. Women are hardly sent to play friendly matches and other Asia level competitions. While officials have patronisingly offered support, the actual efforts have been minimal.
In the midst of such apathy, iconic players like Oinam Bembem Devi have played a big role. She recently scripted history by becoming the second lady from the nation to win the prestigious Arjuna Award. In addition, she has also won the AIFF Woman Footballer Award twice, in 2001 and 2013. On receiving the award, Bembem said, ‘This is an award for Indian women’s football. I hope this award will help remove the mental block and inspire all girls in the society to take up the sport.’ Several Mizo players look up to her as a role model. If the game is developed at the national level and allowed to flourish, it would be only natural that several players from around the country would achieve significantly as well.
For the future development of the game, one of the paramount challenges will be enabling participation. According to Lalnghinglova Hmar, Honorary Secretary of MFA, women in Mizoram are as passionate about football as men. In fact, they comprise at least half the spectators of a football match on any given day. Though football has garnered innumerable women fans as dedicated to the game as the male fans, this enthusiasm and love for the game has not quite motivated women into the fields. The reason for this is the bleak possibility of sustainable livelihood.
Job security is not an illogical concern. Even for the girls who have played for at the national level, job security does not follow. Their glory often ends with the end of the championship they played in. There are no football clubs to sign into as yet as there is no football clubs formed for Indian women players. Compensations given are minimal at best. Talking about this concern, Peter Lalzawmliana remarks that more girls would be willing to chase their football dreams if it could ensure a more stable livelihood. Mizoram’s sister state Manipur provides many incentives and has a better infrastructure for women football players. Perhaps, if such a system was provided it could boost the performance level of players.
The importance of education needs to be further stressed among the youth. Although there have been changes in the attitude towards professional sports and games, education remains neglected, which in turn hinders future prospects. Grace Lalrampari, voted the best player for the U-17 Subroto Cup football tournament says, ‘I had to lose a year out of my college education because the Head of the Department of the subject I had chosen as my core disapproved the idea of studying and playing football at the same time. I decided to choose football over my core subject.’
Creating pathways for career management for players with proper guidance on education and livelihood seems to be a key necessity at this juncture. For the first time in 2016, the Indian U-16 women’s national team had three Mizoram Players—Grace Lalrampari, Bawitlung Vanlalhriattiri and Offee Lalhmingchhuanpuii—making it evident that women’s football in Mizoram is on an upward surge. ‘I started playing football when I was five years old and haven’t looked back since,’ says Bawitlung. ‘The only thing which keeps me going is the passion for the sport and the opportunity to make my country proud at the big stage.’ Assessing the performance of the Mizo Players in the Indian U-16 national team, Head Coach Maymol Rocky said, ‘Mizoram Football has risen gradually this year and the potential of these three girls is a statement of it.'
Elucidating the growing craze of football in Mizoram, Grace Lalrampari says, ‘Football has always been popular in the North-Eastern states, it was about time that Mizoram joined the bandwagon of providing the Indian Team with players.’ She further adds, ‘I can’t say it is true for all of us. But as for myself and some of the women players I know, the recurring fear is of getting tanned. Football practice requires us to stay outdoors and our biggest worry is getting tanned!’
With the progress made in women’s football, several initiatives taken up by the MFA to improve the conditions of those playing professional and semi-professional football, the introduction of grassroots football for girls and the achievements of the women’s team for the state, it will not be long before the game in the state triumphs over all the hurdles that stand on its way.
 Personal correspondence. October 25, 2017. Pachhunga university College, Aizawl.
 Personal correspondence. October 19, 2017. Zotlang, Aizawl.
 Personal correspondence. October 20, 2017. Zotlang, Aizawl.
 Personal correspondence.October 27, 2017. Pachhunga university College, Aizawl.
All India Football Federation. 2017. ‘"Durga of Indian Football" Wins Arjuna Award’. Online at https://www.the-aiff.com/news-center-details.htm?id=8386
'Arunava Chaudhuri about Football'. 2017. 'Mizoram Football Association to focus on women and youth football!'. Online at http://www.arunfoot.com/mizoram-football-association-focus-women-youth-football/
Solomon, Joseph. 2016. ‘Mizo Girls high on Footballing passion’. Online at https://www.the-aiff.com/news-center-details.htm?id=7371