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Odishatv Bureau

Bhubaneswar: It sounds strange, but it’s true nevertheless. A cricketer is honing the skill of budding footballers in a region in Odisha which is inarguably the nursery of women’s football.

The cluster of backward villages in Aul-Rajkanika belt of Odisha’s Kendrapara district, which has churned out best of talents to don country’s jersey, is no more the nursery of women’s football.

Thanks to gross absence of government initiative, the cradle of women’s football is on a steady decline.

The irony is that the budding talents are now being guided and coached by a cricketer, who represented Kendrapara district in state-level inter-district Kalahandi Cup cricket tournament.

While Sasmita Mallick from Aul has brought glory following her selection as women’s footballer of the year by All India Football Federation (AIFF), the ground realities in soccer arena in Aul brings has brought under sharp focus the gradual downslide in women’s football with talents no more coming to the forefront anymore.

“The prevailing scenario is a poor shadow of the glorious past. There is little to cheer though the local girl Sasmita has been conferred the women footballer of the year by AIFF. There was a time when as many as 16 girls from these areas had represented the country in both the junior and senior level. But the golden days are gone. At present these areas have single representation in the national and state level”, remarked ex-vice president of Odisha Women’s Football Association and the sitting Aul MLA, Debendra Sharma.

The state women’s football team was virtually packed with girls from Aul. As many as 36 girls have found their place in the State’s senior, junior and sub-junior women’s football teams. It was a matter of pride that the girls including Sasmita had overcome poverty to script success story.

It’s criminal negligence on part of the state government that has paved the way of decline of women’s football in Aul. The budding players are deprived of proper coaching. The government is yet to depute a fulltime football coach. The local football association does not have the resources to recruit private coaches to hone the skill of upcoming women footballers. As a result the precious talents are being wasted due to lack of government support, he rued.

At present, Rajeswari Das is representing country’s senior team while Sanghanmitra Mallick has been picked for junior team. In sharp contrast to the prevailing scenario, 16 women footballers from this belt have represented India in senior and junior level between 2000 and 2015.

Apart from Sasmita, Alochana Senapati, Suprava Samal, Sangita Patra, Shradhanjali Sahu, Rashmita Patra, Kaushalya Barik, Rachita Barik, Sinalata Sahu, Anima Mallick, Jyotsna Mallick, Menaka Mallik, Gayatri Mallik, Bijaylaxmi Sahu, Tikina Samal- all from backward villages of Aul and Rajkanika blocks- have represented the country.

“All of these star players were nurtured under my guidance. That’s why this area deservingly was being regarded as the nursery of women’s football. However. I quit coaching assignment couple of years back due to differences over pay package. The girls of these areas have the talent, prowess and expertise to excel in soccer arena. Only thing they need is coaching and motivation. The state government should come forward to depute fulltime coach to revive the football glory,” said ex-coach Chitta Ranjan Patra.

“I was shocked to know that government PET who was a cricketer is presently imparting physical training and football training to a bunch of women footballers from Aul. I am of the view that the budding talents ought to be taken care in a better way than they are taken care at present”, he concluded.

The local MLA whose support and patronage in past years helped the women’s football stride ahead said, “The need of the hour is to have a government-run sports hostel in Aul to revive the lost glory. Whatever was achieved in past years was due to private sponsorship and patronage. The state government has done nothing except sending a coach for fortnight every year. These talented footballers need coaching round the year”.

District Sports Officer, Loknath Panigrahy said “The Sports and Youth Affairs Department has not deputed coach in past years. The amazing girls from Aul have excelled due to initiative of local football and athletic association. We have requested the higher-ups for deployment of a full-time coach for Aul women footballers”.

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