Oinam Hemabati, founding member of ETA, a community group of trans men, lesbians and bisexual women in Manipur, presents glimpses from a unique football contest

Garnering positive visibility and empowerment for lesbians, bisexual women and trans men in Manipur through football – crisp but ambitious is the agenda of our three-year-old community group Empowering Trans Ability (ETA).

We co-organize an annual tournament called ‘Village Level 7-A-Side Open Football Tournament’ along with youth clubs and NGOs. While this under-17 tournament is meant for all genders, it is difficult to find enough teams of lesbians, bisexual women and trans men for the competitive segment of the event. Most community members prefer to play as part of the women’s teams and not be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

This year (2017) the tournament had 16 men’s teams, and only ETA and Women Football Association from Kakching turned up for the women’s contest. The photographs show an exhibition match between the two teams, which was won 3-0 by ETA (players in striped t-shirts with Emirates as sponsors). The match was played in a simple village ground. We enrolled new ETA members after the match.

This second photograph shows MLA Heikham Dingo (from Sekmai constituency), Parliamentary Secretary, Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Government of Manipur greeting the two teams ETA and Women Football Association during the inauguration of their exhibition match. In the picture he can be seen shaking hands with a player of the Women Football Association. Other players and referees can also be seen lined up. The match was played in a village ground near Imphal city, and in the background there are a few trees along a lane next to the playground. In the distance are fields and hills. Two army jeeps can also be seen parked on the lane, even as a few villagers pass by. Photo credit: ETA

MLA Heikham Dingo (from Sekmai constituency), Parliamentary Secretary, Department of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj, Government of Manipur inaugurated the match (above), along with Randhoni Lairikyengbam from NGO Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII) and freelance journalist and gender rights activist Thingnam Anjulika Samom (forefront below). Around 70 people watched the match.

This third photograph shows Randhoni Lairikyengbam from NGO SAATHII and freelance journalist and gender rights activist Thingnam Anjulika Samom greeting the players from the ETA and Women Football Association teams during the inauguration of their exhibition match. In the foreground Thingnam Anjulika Samom can be seen shaking hands with players of Women Football Association, while Randhoni Lairikyengbam follows. The ETA players are in the background. Photo credit: ETA

Rains have delayed the completion of the tournament, which started in May. The final match is pending – till the slush from the football ground dries out.

You’re very welcome to join us for the tournament – as a spectator or supporter. Let’s kick-off a revolution together!
This fourth photograph shows all the players of the two teams ETA and Women Football Association lined up at the start of the match. The ETA players are dressed in maroon and black striped t-shirts, white shorts and light green socks, while their opponents are in a bright orange combination. The ETA goalie is in an all-yellow dress, while Women Football Association’s goalie is in an all-black one. In the centre are the two referees (in blue t-shirts and black shorts). To their right are the ETA team and the Women Football Association are on the other side. The ETA t-shirts carry the logo of Emirates, the team’s sponsors. The background is an idyllic countryside with trees, hills and an open blue sky, marred only slightly by overhead power lines. A handful of spectators and soldiers can also be seen on the sidelines of the play ground. Photo credit: ETA

This fifth photograph shows about 50 spectators, all women and girls across different age groups, seated or standing and chatting behind one of the goal nets on one side of the play ground. This makes for a colourful sight set against a bluish sky and the green of the trees and shrubs. A car can be seen parked on a lane close behind the spectators, as also an army jeep. A couple of scooters and bicycles that presumably belong to the spectators can also be seen. An overhead power line looms up next to one of the parked cars. Photo credit: ETA

And it’s a goal! The Women Football Association goalie seems to be transfixed just outside the goal net as she looks back to see the ball touching the back of the net. Two players of the ETA team (to the left of the photograph) look on, satisfied with their winning effort. Four spectators and one of the referees (with his back to the photographer) are also caught in this moment of time. All around is the lush green of the grass and trees against the backdrop of a blue-grey sky. Colourful flags hoisted on bamboo poles on the sidelines of the play ground add to the effect. ETA easily won 3-0 this exhibition match between only the two teams in the women’s leg of the ‘Village Level 7-A-Side Open Football Tournament 2017’. Photo credit: ETA

This seventh photograph shows the victorious ETA team along with several well-wishers and ETA group members after the exhibition match. Around 30 people (among them a few queer activists from Manipur) can be seen in the photograph, with the author of this article Oinam Hemabati seated third from left in the front row. The tournament banner with ‘Village Level 7-A-Side Open Football Tournament 2017’ emblazoned on it rises high above behind them. The names of all co-organizers are also mentioned on the banner, which is hoisted on a frame made of bamboo poles. The banner juxtaposed against a cloudy sky looks majestic. Photo credit: ETA

All photographs courtesy: ETA. The author can be seen third from left in the front row in the photograph above that shows the victorious ETA team along with well-wishers and ETA group members after the exhibition match. A few queer activists from Manipur can also be seen among the well-wishers.