Ladakh remains as one of the most politically volatile areas in the country. Amidst all this noise, the population of merely three lakh find solace in the sport of football. After the region was declared as an Union Territory, the creation of the Ladakh FA breathed life into the development of football in the area.
"I think its separate," said Tsering Angmo, the General Secretary of the Ladakh FA, when asked whether the political instability in the region hampers football. "When we first created the FA, all the political leaders were very supportive of football's development. It is run without any political pressure or interference," she said.
The football association was founded in 2019, the same year Ladakh was given the Union Territory status by the Parliament of India. Since then, it has been a slow but steady rise in the region's football development.
"We play football here, but before it used to be more of a hobby. Private bodies would arrange competitions for the localites, but the sport did not have any future," Tsering, a former athlete, said.
In the light of the upcoming FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup in India, a string of E-License coaching programmes are being hold exclusively for women. This endeavour is being sponsored by FIFA, in association with India's apex footballing body AIFF.
Affiliation- a long time coming
Despite coming into existence almost three years back, Ladakh FA's affiliation with the All India Football Federation came to fruition only in February, 2022. Does this reek of administrative incompetence? Angmo doesn't think so.
"We applied for affiliation back in 2019, but the whole process took two years as they had to see what we as an association were doing, or had to offer. Luckily, last year in September, a team of AIFF officials visited us when we had our logo reveal which got a lot of media attention," she said.
One problem which AIFF is help Ladakh FA tackle is the dearth of coaches. The General Secretary stresses the lack of certified coaches and teachers in the region as sourcing them from outside becomes an expensive affair.
From getting equipment on time to receiving help to organise local Futsal tournaments, the affiliation, albeit late, has been a boon for the fledgling football association in Ladakh.
Creating 'Football for all' environment
There are 39 clubs right now which fall under Ladakh FA's jurisdiction, clubs which have their respective men's and women's team. In January 2022, a first-of-its-kind track and football synthetic field was erected in the village of Spituk.
Spituk's Open stadium (Source: Livemint)
This newly-made stadium is meant for special occasions and tournaments in the area. This raises the question- where are the 39 clubs supposed to have their training? Where will local people play the sport they love? Tsering has the answer.
"Travelling between two spots here is a hassle as the distance is a lot. And our weather is such that there's no grass during the winter. Hopefully with the help of the federation and sports ministry, we can make small futsal grounds where kids can also play," Angmo answered.
A popular, but expensive, sport in Ladakh during the winter is ice hockey. The price of ice skating equipment prevents the locals from enjoying the sport. This is where football's accessibility comes in, Tsering feels.
Small steps towards the future
In its three-year existence, the FA's biggest achievement has to be sending a group of girls in Assam to represent Ladakh in the U-17 Women's National Championships earlier this year.
Ladakh's U-17 girls team in the women's national championships 2022 held in Assam.
"Right now, we are educating the existing clubs in the area to be more professional. In the future, we wish to create a Ladakh FC which can take part in the national level leagues like the I-League," Tsering said.
Failing to make this year's edition due to lack of time, Tsering and co. are rearing to send a team for next year's Santosh trophy, for which they have already received an invitation.
"Our main prerogative is to work on the grassroots. Naturally, it'll take another 5-6 years for us to reach the level of other state associations who are doing so well. For us, goals for the near future including focusing on the coaching and providing facilities to our women's team and the children," Angmo concluded.