New Delhi: It's been five months since seven Manipuri players of the Indian women's football team decided to sit out of the national setup.
Ngangom Bala Devi, Yumnam Kamala Devi, Kshetrimayum Margaret Devi, Kashmina MS, Umapati Devi, Elangbam Panthoi Chanu and Ranjibala Devi have boycotted the national team over differences with head coach Maymol Rocky and assistant coach Chaoba Devi.
The players had sent a letter to All India Football Federation (AIFF) complaining about Maymol and Chaoba, revealing the reasons behind the revolt and the issues they faced in the national camp. The AIFF, however, is yet to respond to their letter.
The players had written in the letter that the "Head Coach and Assistant Coach of the National Team are not able to bring the team together and in fact play divide and rule policy leading to a stifling situation in the camp and the team."
The AIFF, however, maintains that the players were called for the national camp by the coach, and they are not responsible for their problems after they boycotted it.
One of the seven players, who did not wish to be named, told News18.com, "AIFF has not taken a risk for us. We complained and they think that our performance went down which is why we complained. But all we wanted was a harmonious team and the development of women's football as there is a real need for a foreign coach and Indian coach to be mixed in the setup. The boys for example get 50 per cent facility, give us at least 15 per cent then even women's football will develop."
The player said that when she and the others tried to contact AIFF, the federation instead placed the blame on them. "We want women's football to develop, AIFF and the coaches may feel otherwise though. We could have sit behind them and played for India and we have played for India for quite sometime but we feel the team should get a better coach and a better life."
The trouble started brewing when the players began having issues with Chaoba but then it transcended to the head coach. According to the players, once they complained about Chaobo to Maymol, the head coach's attitude took a turn for the worse.
"In the beginning, Maymol ma'am was amazing, she would take care of each and every player. We had gone to the Malaysia tour with her and we were all so happy, we even won. I still miss that tour where ma'am showed so much affection. What happened from one tournament to the next? Why did it all change? May be she thinks the other players will improve the team, we can't say much."
"They used to catch every little thing. There should be a little freedom so that everybody can perform well on the field. If the mind is clogged with every little issue, how will we perform?" she asked.
"We had spoken about Chaoba to Maymol ma'am. We had told her that we don't like the way Chaoba treats us and she only looks at players from her club (Kryphsa in Manipur). We had said it directly to Maymol ma'am and at that time she had said, 'you guys don't worry' and she had shown support. I don't know what happened but Maymol ma'am changed a lot after that," Player 1 further described.
"We have heard that Chaoba ma'am was one of the coaches of the Indian team before as well. Even then she was sacked after complaints against her. But then she was brought back again. AIFF should see if this coach was rejected before, why was she brought back?"
The player also said that when they started feeling troubled, they tried to contact Indu Choudhary, Manager of Women's Football division at AIFF and Sapna Rani, Assistant Manager of Women's Football and Academies with AIFF, but they did not respond to their calls or messages.
The player described that they felt speaking to AIFF's women's football department might resolve the issue but upon receiving no response from them, they had to directly write a letter to the AIFF General Secretary Kushal Das.
"It's all on the AIFF, we told them what we felt and now they are alleging that Bala and Kamala scared the juniors to sign the letter, which is untrue."
"We have written the letter, AIFF should reply at least once, that is what we feel. Even if they say that 'no we want the coach and we don't want you guys', that's also okay, but at least reply," Player 1 said.
Another player who spoke to News18.com said, "We think that AIFF should call us and this matter should be resolved soon. It's not good for a player to have such issues hanging."
Player 2 also shared that AIFF had sent them flight tickets for the national camp ahead of the Women's Gold Cup in February in Odisha but they responded saying that, "The federation is yet to address our grievances and we cannot come back for the national camp unless that happens."
Of the seven players who are sitting out, Bala recently scored 26 goals in the Indian Women's League in Ludhiana but she was not a part of the national team that took on Myanmar in the AFC Olympic qualifiers last month, where India narrowly missed out on a spot in the third round.
6. For her astounding goal-scoring tally of 26 goals from seven games, Bala Devi netted the Highest Scorer award. #HeroIWL2019 #indianfootball #womensfootball #HerGameToo #BD10 pic.twitter.com/1r4vQzVjJr— Women's Football India (@WomensFootieIND) May 23, 2019
WHAT LED TO THE BIG FALLOUT?
All the seven players have accused Maymol and Chaoba of favouritism. Player 2 alleged that some players were looked after and given preference over the others.
"There should be harmony within the team but that was seriously hampered. Not all players could have put their grievances forward so we decided to take up the matter."
"A lot of players lost focus on the pitch because the coach would keep picking extremely little things. She used to scare the kids with her attitude and curtailed players' freedom. A coach should know how to handle the kids and she just didn't know that."
She said the coach picked only those players who talked to her more and this completely hampered the communication within the team and divided it into two. "A team should be one and such divisiveness has no place in a team."
Player 1, on the other hand, described an incident that shattered her ceiling of tolerance. The incident happened during the first round of AFC Olympic qualifiers.
"In the first round of the AFC Olympic qualifiers, I wasn't in the starting line-up and may be it was my performance that led the coach to take the decision which is fine by me but then the player who had replaced me in the starting line-up made one mistake and then she was substituted. What will she think in this case? It's not good for her mindset too. How will she perform like this?"
"It was then that Kamala scored the equaliser against Nepal because of which India advanced to the second round. If we lost that day, we wouldn't have played in the second round. AIFF doesn't think about that, who scored and because of whom India went forward."
She said she couldn't even give her best in the third edition of the Indian Women's League (IWL) because she is still mentally disturbed due to off field issues and the way AIFF is treating them. "We sometimes tend to feel that it's better to leave the game."
She then described another incident where a goal celebration was scoffed upon and Maymol scolded Kamala for celebrating her goal against Nepal enthusiastically.
"When Kamala scored against Nepal in the first round of AFC Olympic qualifiers, she took off her shirt and celebrated. It was just a happy celebration but then she was scolded by Maymol ma'am in front of everybody. The problem perhaps wasn't with the scolding but the manner in which it was done."
"In front of all the juniors, she was told she was undisciplined and she felt humiliated. She was told 'how could you throw an India t-shirt like that'. She was only celebrating. How do Ronaldo and Messi celebrate, it's the same."
Maymol Rocky took over as Indian women's football team coach in 2017. (Photo Credit: AIFF)
The players also said that they don't have a problem with being dropped from the team but if their level is dropping, they should have been told by the coaches.
Player 1 said she was later contacted by the national team manager asking her to join back but she didn't feel like she could go back. "I said 'you were there at that time, you know it all and you didn't do anything too. How can we come back right now'."
"It is going to be very tough to go back into the team. Now that we have said we don't like them and they clearly don't like us, how will it be harmonious? All the players who are coming up are very good and it's really nice to see them play and perform but the seniors should have a happy retirement too but they are not being given that opportunity."
She reiterated that if AIFF does not want them back in the team, they will happily move away but "at least reply to us."
While the AIFF has chosen not to respond to the grievance e-mail sent by the players, it believes that the players are at fault if they have chosen not to turn up for the national camp.
"We are not denying that there may be issues between the players and the coach. They are accusing Maymol of favouritism but she called them for the national camp. It was these girls who did not turn up."
"If they cannot come for the national camp even after being called, why should we cater to their problems? They should have come to the camp and thereafter something could have been done," an AIFF official told News18.com.
AIFF was unhappy with the attitude being shown by these players and accused Bala and Kamala of creating an unnecessary revolt within the team.
"What is with the attitude they are showing? Bala Devi and Kamala Devi might have scored a lot of goals but no one is irreplaceable. The current crop of girls are doing an exceptional job and they can take the team forward on their own."
AIFF further said that it will not get involved in the personal issues between the players and the coaches and these girls should take the responsibility of resolving the conflict themselves instead of going around "victimising themselves".
Upon contacting coach Maymol, she told News18.com that she did not wish to comment on the matter.