TODAY -

Manipuri youth featured by Oprah and Prince Harry now at Asia's largest TEDx Event
Sports sees no gender, Sports sees no gender talk makes a splash at TEDx

L Nomi *

 Sadam Hanjabam at TEDxGateway held in Mumbai
Sadam Hanjabam at TEDxGateway held in Mumbai :: Pix - TSE



"Sports sees no gender, Sports has no gender", these were the exact words of Sadam Hanjabam at TEDxGateway held in Mumbai. The founder of United Nations recognised NGO "Ya All" and curator of Asia's historic all Transgender Football Team was invited for their work in promoting diversity and inclusion in Sports in Asia's largest TED event.

He spoke about how sports can build an inclusive community and help break barriers. He reminded the crowd that sports which everyone sees as neutral and progressive turned out to be categorized only on the basis of gender. Giving examples of champions like Caster Semenya from South Africa, Mary Gregory from United States and India's Shanti Soundarajan who identified as transgender, intersex and others, were stripped of medals just because they failed the "Male - Female" gender test; he grabbed the attention of the crowd on the discrimination that happens in sports on the basis of sex, gender and sexuality.

Giving an example of our own State he pointed out that even a State like Manipur which is regarded as the "Powerhouse of Sports" in the country and has produced over 19 Olympians and multiple champions in every field of sports, there is still no awareness about inclusion in the arena. He further informed the audience about "Yaoshang Festival", which is one of biggest Sporting events in Manipur and informed that many LGBTQI+ individuals do not participate in the sports festival because of bullying and harassment on playgrounds.

He laments the plight of LGBTQIA+ community in the sports globally. Highlighting some of the legalities pertaining to LGBTQAI+ community, he informed that the Supreme Court of Idia recognised Transgender as Third Gender in 2014 and decriminalized homosexuality in 2018.

He enquired " India is a country with more than a billion people accounting for 1/8th of the global population but why do you think many people are not coming out ; why don't we see queer and transgender persons playing in their true identity ?"

"Many individuals like me live closeted with fear and shame. We are always stereotyped and often seek validation from society for our acceptance. Our dreams and opportunities are killed just because society does not count us as "normal" or equal. There is a lot of discrimination in families, workspaces and the society as a whole. Sports were and are no different. Individuals who come out as LGBTQIA+ are ridiculed and even lynched".

In a bid to address this issue, he created "Queer Games", an annual sporting event exclusively for LGBTQIA+ community and supporters in 2018. He uses "Sports for Pride" and has been conducting the games for the last five years in Imphal with the support of many other organizations and corporations.

Teams from US Consulate General Kolkata, High Commission of Canada in India and British Deputy High Commission Kolkata have visited Manipur and provided support and solidarity to the team. Claiming that Manipuris love for football cannot be restricted by gender, he took the bold step of creating Asia's First All-Transgender Football Team in 2020.

The success of the team in creating a campaign for inclusion in sports is documented by hundreds of news articles and publications globally. The story of Sadam Hanjabam and Ya All was documented alongside Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry in a series called "The Me You Cant See" on Apple TV+ last year.

The small organization from Manipur was even listed by the United Nations Envoy on Youth among 10 Global initiatives led by young people "who can inspire you to change the world". However he shared his disappointment in not getting any support or recognition from our own State.

The-one-of-a-kind football team that inspired millions of people globally is still waiting for acknowledgement and runs on crowd funding campaigns to sustain. But as a Manipuri he believes in the power of sports.

Reassuring hope to the community and beyond, he reaffirmed "Ya All reads as YaWol in Meiteilon and translates into Revolution. Ours is an inclusive revolution for everyone. We are on a campaign to make our Nation open up a separate category for transgender persons in sports along with advocating for inclusive sporting events everywhere.

If this becomes a reality, Manipur will prove to be the true powerhouse promoting diversity and inclusion in sports and India would become the proudest country, literally" He calls on the audience by saying "Sports are played for the love of the game; who are we to stop somebody from playing in their true self just because they are unique?"


* L Nomi wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on December 03 2022.



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