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Sunday, September 24, 2023

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Why Top Athletes From Manipur Are Threatening To Return Their Awards To The Government

Being recognized for your contributions to the sport and the country is the greatest honor for any athlete. However, it becomes incredibly difficult for them to return their awards or medals.

On Tuesday morning, I received a phone call from a National Award-winning sportsperson from Manipur, along with other prominent athletes, to discuss finding a solution to the current crisis gripping our state. We proposed meeting the Union Home Minister, who was visiting the state, hoping that he would listen to us considering our significant contributions to sports. Our agenda was clear: a plea to end the violence in Manipur and restore peace. If the government failed to address the situation, we were prepared to return our awards.

It is heartbreaking to even contemplate such a decision driven by emotions. For athletes, being recognized for their contributions to sports and the nation is an unparalleled honor. Coincidentally, on the same day, our wrestlers decided to throw their medals into the Ganga. However, I am not aware of the internal dynamics of the wrestling protests led by Sakshi Malik, Vinesh Phogat, and Bajrang Punia. The recent scenes in the streets of Delhi should never have occurred. I heard reports that they even had their tickets snatched away when they went to watch a cricket match. These athletes have brought immense pride to our country, and the government must ensure a peaceful resolution to their problems.

However, our situation in Manipur is distinct from that of the wrestlers. While they are fighting for their sport, we are fighting to save our state. For years, all Manipuris have lived as one big family, with different tribes, languages, religions, and communities coexisting peacefully. It epitomized the spirit of unity in Manipur. Sadly, the violence that has unfolded in recent weeks is deeply regrettable. Although I reside in a relatively peaceful area in Imphal, I have heard enough stories to understand the gravity of the situation in the hills.

I recently learned about incidents where an 80-year-old lady’s house was set on fire, and an innocent old man was burned alive. How can such inhuman acts be perpetrated? Is there really so much hatred? There are various rumors and speculations about the perpetrators behind the violence, but all we desire is peace. We have appealed to both the central and state governments to restore peace.

The violence has disrupted our everyday lives. From a sportsperson’s perspective, the training of every athlete has come to a halt due to the curfew. This period is critical as the Asian Games are scheduled for September-October, and selection trials are underway in many sports. Manipuri athletes excel in almost every sport, and their participation in the Asiad is uncertain due to the prevailing situation. In football, we have the National Championship approaching, and assembling a team is becoming increasingly challenging. The internet shutdown is also impacting our day-to-day work. As the head of scouting for the All India Football Federation, I cannot fulfill my role or access my emails due to the lack of internet connectivity.

Speaking about the situation evokes strong emotions within me. If the violence continues to deny our young athletes the opportunity to play, affects the participation of Manipuri athletes in the Asian Games, and continues to impact the lives of every Manipuri, our only option is to appeal to the government and, if necessary, return our awards. We are thinking about the well-being of everyone, not just ourselves. The government honored us with these awards, but if they are not helping Manipur in its time of need, what purpose do these awards serve? If everyone perishes, what will we do with them?

The Home Minister has promised a swift resolution, assured us not to worry, and pledged to make every effort to stop the violence. His words have given us confidence,

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