Manipur struck gold at the 21st Senior National Sepak Takraw Championship that concluded here on Wednesday. But an alleged sexual assault on their women players followed by a free-for-all took the sheen out of their glory.
The four-day Sepak Takraw or kick-volleyball championship had begun on September 19. The Manipur contingent bagged five gold medals to sign off the tournament on Wednesday night. But the final day for them began on a bitter note following an "attempted rape" and a retaliatory rampage.
Trouble began the night before when a miscreant barged into the stadium guesthouse where the 15-member Manipur women’s team was staying and allegedly molested one of the players. The miscreant escaped after the players raised the alarm.
On Wednesday morning, the Manipur players assaulted stadium casual employee Phul Kumar Das on suspicion of being the nocturnal visitor. Brimming with anger, they also went on the rampage, damaging stadium property, police vehicles and preventing movement of players and spectators to and from the stadium complex.
Local players and onlookers retaliated, and in the ensuing melee one of the Manipur players – Tombisena Devi – was injured. She was hospitalized along with the alleged sexual offender Das.
“Prima facie, this appears to be a case of misunderstanding gone haywire. The accused was beaten into a coma, so it’s difficult to come to a conclusion until we interrogate him after he regains consciousness,” said City SSP Pradip Kumar Saloi.
Protesting the assault, the Manipur players refused to play on the final day. But they changed their decision after the championship organizing committee stepped in. “We have begun a probe into the incident,’ said the organizing committee’s general secretary Bishnuram Nunisa.
The Indian Sepak Takraw Federation has meanwhile taken a strong note of the conduct of the Manipur players. “If the enquiry finds them guilty of unwarranted behaviour, we might withdraw the medals they won,” a senior member said.
Manipur won both the men’s and women’s team events. The Manipur women also won gold in the doubles and ‘regu’ categories while the men clinched the 'regu' gold.
Sepak Takraw originated in Malaysia 194 years ago, and was introduced in the 1982 Asiad as a major international event.