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Building sports in India

With an array of international players, the North-East, especially Assam,holds immense potential to become India's next sports hub.

Building sports in India

The North Eastern states in India are home to some of India's most recognised international players. People like MC Mary Kom with her 2012 Olympics bronze medal along with five world amateur-boxing championship trophies, footballer Baichung Bhutia, boxer L Sarita Devi with her silver medal at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Jayanta Talukdar with his gold medal and Arjuna Award, weightlifter K Sanjita Chanu with a gold at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, etc. have already glorified the region on the world map. While North East India constitutes only about 3.7 per cent of the total Indian population, the youth there are well-known for their inclination towards sports.

Assam and Manipur have synthetic athletic tracks for all-weather competitions. These states have a good number of sponsorships from corporate giants and other public sector-undertakings which help in promoting physical education and sports in the region. Children are motivated to participate in sports from a young age and the general opinion of the people here is that physical education should be implemented as a compulsory part of school and college curriculums.
As the present NDA government is committed to the development of sports, the Sports Authority of India (SAI) also set up the first office of its Chairperson in the North East region in Guwahati in 2015, with the help of then Union Sports Minister Sarbananda Sonowal. This is facilitating North Eastern sportspersons to acquire easy access to the Ministry for the Development of Sports. 22.3 per cent (901 out of 4031) of girl trainees at SAI centres are trained in the North Eastern States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim, and Tripura. They are provided with regular sports training in 27 sports disciplines on a residential and non-residential basis in 290 SAI sports centres.
After Sonowal became the Chief Minister of Assam he took it up as a challenge to make Assam the national sports capital of India. As Sonowal mentioned, "We began a journey to make Assam a global sports hub beginning with the South Asian Games. Every championship will take us closer to that goal." He is a firm believer that if talent is properly harnessed, the North East can produce more sportspersons who can represent the nation at world events. Assam and the North East have immense raw talent that goes unnoticed as unfortunately, several budding sportspersons end up stagnant at the district and state level.
Being a storehouse of talent, the region is being accorded top priority status by the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has instructed every ministry to accord priority to developmental schemes in the North East because India cannot progress without adequate progress in the North East region. In sports, they have taken immediate steps to hold the Himalayan Region Games in the North-East Region. It seems that the Sports Ministry along with the Human Resource Development Ministry is trying to integrate sports with education for an all-round development of the children.
With North Eastern boxers like Mary Kom, Shiva Thapa, L Sarita Devi, and Devendro Singh, India has been accorded at the international level, including the Olympics. Guwahati is all set to host the biggest football extravaganza in the world, the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The state government realises the importance of hosting the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 and has extended complete support, as this event will be critical to the Chief Minister's vision of making Assam the sports hub of India. It recently had the India Myanmar Thailand (IMT) car rally and again the state is planning to organise a Brahmaputra Festival to integrate traditional sports and culture. As a baby step towards Assam's goal of making Guwahati the Sports Capital of the country, the 1st Elite (Senior) Men's National Boxing Championship 2016-17, which is the first major event organised in two years by the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) was hosted by the state. The State is hopeful that it will host many tournaments of such stature in the days to come.
It is a matter of pride for the region that sportspersons have given back to their communities by supporting and guiding young athletes from their native lands. Mary Kom Regional Boxing Foundation and the chain of Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools are great examples of this. With the presence of football clubs like Shillong Lajong FC, Aizawl FC, North-East United FC, Royal Waliingdoh FC and a host of local sides from the Shillong, Manipur or Mizoram football leagues, people's interest in the sport has witnessed a steady growth over the last few decades in the region.
Apart from Assam, most of the state governments of the region have been putting in increasing efforts to upgrade the stadiums as well as the practice sites. It is deeply hoped that all these well-considered measures would assist in materialising the dreams of the people of the North East about sports and create world class players who India can be proud of.
(The author is a writer and columnist based in Guwahati. The views are strictly personal.)

Jyotirmoy Barpujari

Jyotirmoy Barpujari

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