Bengaluru: National team’s Manipuri footballer Jeakson Singh created a flutter Tuesday night by wrapping himself in a Meitei flag while collecting his individual medal after India beat Kuwait in the final of the SAFF Championship.
The flag Jeakson wrapped himself in, is called Flag of Kangleipak or Salai Taret Flag — a rectangular seven-colour flag which represents the seven clan dynasties of the Meitei ethnicity in ancient Manipur.
The North-Eastern state is in turmoil since ethnic clashes broke out between Meitei and Kuki communities in May.
The Meitei community has been demanding its inclusion in the Scheduled Tribe list like the Kuki community, whose members primarily reside in the hills. The tribal communities have protested the Meitei demand.
The Indian government had to deploy military to restore peace in the region with more than 100 people losing their lives along with mass destruction of public and private property.
Jeakson belongs to Meitei clan and his gesture led to widespread criticism with netizens putting up photographs and stills of Salai Taret flag being hoisted after destroying Kuki churches.
The 22-year-old mid-fielder, who became the first Indian to score in a FIFA World Cup in the 2017 edition of the U17 tournament at home, late in the night backtracked after his symbolic gesture attracted criticism from some quarters.
Jeakson, took to twitter late in the night and defended himself.
“Dear Fans, By celebrating in the flag, I did not want to hurt the sentiments of anyone. I intended to bring notice to the issues that my home state, Manipur, is facing currently. This win tonight is dedicated to all the Indians,” he tweeted.
Earlier in an interaction with ESPN.in, Jeakson urged people in his state to maintain peace.
“It’s my Manipur flag. I just wanted to tell everyone in India and Manipur to stay in peace and not fight. I want peace. It’s been 2 months now and still fighting is going on,” Jeakson said.
“I don’t want that kind of thing to happen more and I just want to bring the government’s and other people’s attention to get peace you know.
“My family is safe but there are lot of families who have suffered and lost their home and all. Yeah it’s difficult now…Even for me it’s difficult to go back home now with the situation…Even I don’t know what’s going to happen. I hope things get well soon,” the talented player added.
When AIFF president Kalyan Chaubey was contacted, he refused to comment on the issue.
The FIFA rules states that no team can use any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images on team equipment.
It must be noted that during Qatar World Cup, FIFA rejected Denmark national team’s request for wearing a ‘Human Rights for All’ logo inscribed on their training jersey as a mark protest against the alleged violation of rights for all those workers who lost their lives while working on stadium construction site over the years.
Even England skipper Harry Kane was not allowed to wear a ‘One Love’ captain’s arm-band in support of LGBTQ community.
Jeakson may not get a sanction from the global body because the Meitei flag isn’t part of team equipment.