National centre for Sepak Takraw will be of big help: Manipur’s Ayekpam Devi

Margao: The journey towards glory often passes through tunnels of struggle and challenges. The life of Indian Sepak Takraw women’s team players and 2023 Asian Games bronze medallists Oinam Chaoba Devi and Ayekpam Maipak Devi is no different.

Representing Manipur in the 37th National Games Goa, the duo won the gold medal in the women’s Team event and Women’s Regu event, defeating Goa and Nagaland respectively in the finals.

Chaoba Devi, 34, has represented India at the Asian Games on four occasions. Over the years, the Indian Women’s Team has built a strong reputation in the international circuit. A bronze medal in the Quadrant event, a Silver medal in the Regu event at the King’s Cup Sepaktakraw World Championships in 2023 and the Asian Games Bronze medal in the Women’s Regu event have meant that India is definitely seen as a home for the sport. However, things were not always rosy for the National team.

Chaoba Devi said, “Culturally, Sepak Takraw is quite popular in Manipur and even in other northeastern states in India. Lots of people and young kids play the sport. However, in terms of facilities or infrastructure, we still don’t receive a lot of support at the National or International level. Until 2013, we had to pay out of our own pocket to book travel and accommodation while representing India in International tournaments.”

The growth in the Indian team’s stature at the world level has meant that the team now gets the bare minimum in terms of logistical support and apparel. However, even top players representing India need a lot more support to stay motivated and be able to single-mindedly focus on their training.

Indian women’s team captain Ayekpam Maipak Devi believes that there is still a long way to go for India to bridge the gap with elite teams like Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.

She said, “India doesn’t have a renowned academy or permanent place to train for Sepak Takraw. Even for big tournaments like the World Championships and Asian Games, we have a 90-day camp prior to the competition where we train together. At other times, players practice separately, which is not ideal in a team sport. If we get these basic facilities, I’m sure that India’s performance will improve even further on the world stage.”

Manipur has been one of the states which has promoted the sport heavily since its early days. With a strong regional presence of football – a sport played by most boys and girls in Manipur – Sepak Takraw has played the role of the ‘cousin sport’ owing to the slight similarities between the two sports. In fact, players like Oinam Chaoba Devi, Elangbam Priya Devi and Leirentombi Devi (all 2023 Asian Games Bronze medallists) all started with football.

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Multiple clubs and regional academies also play and promote Sepak Takraw in the state. With inter-state tournaments organised regularly across Manipur, the youth is incentivised to take up the sport as these competitions have cash prizes for winners and serve as a criterion for government job applications in the state.

Speaking about what winning a medal for their state means to the team, Captain Oinam Chouba Devi said, “We are very happy to win these medals for our state especially because Sepak Takraw is back at the National Games after a gap of 11 years. Winning a medal for Manipur fills our families back home with joy, so we dedicate our Gold Medals to the people of Manipur.”

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