NEW DELHI, November 8: Over 350 children took part in the first edition of the LaitksehGolden Baby League after overcoming a number of hurdles, including travelling 70 kilometres on the match-day in the hilly state of Meghalaya.
“In the first Golden Baby League, we had stakeholders and clubs come from far away on each match-day,” league operator Gilbert Jackson was quoted as saying by the All India FootballFederation (AIFF) website.
“We had clubs from many localities and different children from different communities take part — many of whom would get up at 6 a.m. and travel up to 70 km on match-day, even from the farthest parts of our district.”
The Golden Baby League project was launched in 2018 by AIFF for children aged between 6 and 12 years with the aim of providing access to football irrespective of gender, religion, economic background or ethnic origin.
The idea is to grow a new generation of boys and girls that start playing the sport from an early age.
“It is heartening to see that people are so concerned about the game and (it) is a motivation for us to keep organising such events,” he added.
Despite the logistical challenges of distance and travelling in hilly Laitkseh and its surrounding areas, the organisers recorded a good attendance rate across all age-groups as the children made the football field their home.
“All the children were so excited about the league, especially since it is a nation-wide initiative. The ground is in a remote location but still, it makes them feel at home.
“Not even a single team from any age-group missed a single match-day. It was the first edition of our Golden Baby League and the rate of participation was perfect,” Jackson said.
While a number of participating teams were representing different clubs across the district, the organisers prioritised reaching out to a number of schools with the aim of including football in their routine.
“Our priority is schools as well. At times it’s not always easy for clubs and coaches to get children to the venue on time.
“Through the route of schools, it does not hamper their routine and regular classes as football becomes part and parcel of their extra-curricular activities. It’s another way of thinking,” Jackson explained.
According to the league operator, another advantage of organising the Golden Baby League has been recognition from institutions across India and he mentioned how they are planning to have a separate league for girls.
“By having such a league of national importance, even renowned clubs and institutions are coming to Laitkseh. It is about the long run and the main objective is developing a love for the game at the grassroots level.
“With such initiatives, we can attract more clubs and catch the eye of renowned academies in Meghalaya and even (other parts of) India.
“In the future, we plan to do a separate Golden Baby League for girls as well and move from the model of a mixed league as it will encourage more parents to send their daughters to play football,” Jackson said. (PTI)