From left: Vephilü Hoshi (25), Watijungla Imsong (21), Mhasikhonuo Paünuo (21), and Imlimerenla (17).

Kohima: With COVID-19 finally showing signs of decline, Nagaland residents are stepping out in large numbers. For the past few days, one of the most popular destinations for the locals has been the ongoing Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) Martyrs’ Memorial trophy at the IG Stadium in Kohima

But it is not just football and the players who are making news. 

The presence of four women officials is helping bust the myth that women cannot officiate men’s games.

At just 17 years of age, Imlimerenla has made a record of sorts by becoming the first female referee from Nagaland. She, along with state football players Mhasikhonuo Paünuo (21), Watijungla Imsong (21), and district football player Vephilü Hoshi (25), is working as assistant referees for the ongoing tournament by the Angami Students’ Union (ASU). 

The 21st edition of the tournament began on October 9 after a gap of one year following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have been officiating as an assistant referee since 2018. Initially, there was pressure, and there was a time when some players showed aggression. But with time and experience, I have become confident in assisting the main referee,” Imlimerenla tells EastMojo. At a young age, she began her career as an assistant referee for local tournaments after she was trained at a referee clinic.

With the female football scene nowhere in sight in Nagaland, the state-level footballer, who represented the Indian women football team at the U-15 Gothia Cup in Sweden in 2019, said, “I want to focus on refereeing and become a national referee.”

She expressed her desire to secure the Referee Identification Number (RIN) to conduct matches and further pursue her dream of officiating football games at the national level.

While it was not the first time for Imlimerenla and Mhasikhonuo Paünuo, the tournament marked the debut of Watijungla Imsong and Vephilü Hoshi.

Watijungla Imsong said, “I never thought I would referee at a major tournament like this. I am so happy to have been selected. I am officiating as the fourth referee, and although it is my first time and I feel some pressure, I’m doing my best”.

George Vizo, a match commissioner, told EastMojo that the quartet is among 12 officials refereeing the football matches at the tournament. While two of the senior referees are from Manipur, the rest are local referees.

“Ten of the best referees (including senior referees) were selected from among 28. They underwent a 5-day rigorous training at the referee clinic conducted by the Kohima Town Club (KTC),” said Vizo. 

The KTC had recently conducted its second edition of the referee clinic where 28 referees—including the four female referees were trained by All India Football Federation (AIFF) referee instructor Joy Chandra Singh and national referee Priyobarta from Manipur.

Vizo, who is also the convenor of the KTC’s technical committee, said that the club has been training budding referees to stay up to date with the latest football laws hoping to promote the sport and at the same time raise the standard of the game.

He informed that the referees are putting tireless efforts like the players to improve their performances on the pitch. “Before conducting the afternoon matches, these referees undergo training in the morning regularly,” he said.

Vizo informed that the female referees would be encouraged to officiate other tournaments as well. He added that beginner referees are assigned as fourth referees and would be assigned as assistant referees after further training.

As reported earlier, the club has been providing a platform for both football players and football referees through its annual football league. The KTC is an independent club formed in 2016 with the sole aim to promote football and empower skilled youths in the field.

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