When little known ancient city Jalandhar turns hub for sports good industries across India, can North East aspire for Sports Capital Region of India? It has started since the time of partition, when skilled labour from Sialkot Pakistan came to Punjab frontier city as refugees in large numbers and settled over. Interestingly North East lack infrastructure not sports talent. The National Games was hosted by first NE city Imphal in 1997 and later by Guwahati in 2007. We have a long gap of conducting major sports events in this region. After a decade, then Union Minister of Sports Sarbananda Sonowal brought SAF games to Guwahati / Shillong in 2016. India’s ‘Act East policy’ towards the gateway of North East, now called the gateway of South East Asia, Guwahati has undergone various international events from ISL to Elite Senior Boxing, T20, and FIFA U-17 recently. The infrastructure has been built up and it achieved excellence by conducting global events. There are modern stadia for football, cricket, hockey and other indoor games to claim its strong presence. Other NE states also have the capability to organise adventurous sports.
After successfully hosting the under-17 world cup, India has formally put its bid for FIFA U-20. There are number of upcoming events in the pipeline. World Youth Women’s Boxing Championship in Guwahati in November, which is the qualifiers for Youth Olympics at Buenos Aires and Tokyo Olympic. The President of Badminton Association of India (BAI) Dr Himanta Biswa Sarmah placed Guwahati for the fourth edition of 2018 Premier Badminton League (PBL). According to ex national footballer and current Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh, the Union Sports Minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore has agreed to set up a Regional Football Academy in Imphal under SAI. National Sports University at Manipur with world class infrastructure is almost ready for inauguration. Now it has already been decided that cash-rich franchise Rajasthan Royals will base Guwahati as their IPL matches for this season. Under the ‘Khelo India’ scheme, a national sports development programme, every block of the state will have a playground to encourage the sporting culture among youths in the country. North East symbolises a great expectation in taking sports movement to new heights and will surely get a pat from Union Sports ministry.
The success of sportspersons from the North East in international tournaments is well known. Sikkim produced two great footballers Baichung Bhutia and Sunil Chetri in the international level. Boxer MC Mary Kom, Artist gymnast Dipa Karmakar made history in their respective field. The forgotten Naga doctor-footballer Talimeren Ao led the Indian football team in the 1948 London Olympic quarterfinal. The love for football in the North East is enormous as eight represents India from Manipur at Under-17. Also Mizoram and Sikkim have a representative each. And perhaps the entire Jawaharlal Nehru stadium witnessed by one fourth of enthusiastic NE fans recently. India fought hard against the best team in the world and there is a reason to cheer when Thounaojam Jeakson Singh netted maiden goal with a stylish header against Columbia. All India Football Federation (AIFF) realise that the heart and soul of Indian football is in the North East. The move over Bengal and Goa is over. Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Mizoram are becoming India’s new football powerhouse. Nevertheless FIFA U-17 selection gives us a reason to smile. NE players have proved that their physique is not a hindrance, they are most skilful footballer. It is an unprecedented achievement where success has not always followed the passion for football although most of them come from a humble background.
Mizoram started promoting the centre of excellence in sports curriculum. They took initiative by sending U-16 children to Germany for training through a tie up with Tata Trusts. After Assam and Tripura, the remaining six North Eastern states get opportunity to play Ranji Trophy as individual in the next session while they will play as separate states in the age group categories (U-16, U-19 and U-23) from this session onwards. The committee of Administrators (COA) assured for creation of a dedicated North East Zone. Aizawl FC and Shillong Lajong FC have brought laurels to us. Now Indian Olympic Committee voted to add Karate into 2020 Olympic. There is great potential in martial arts from this region. Now Dispur should take this opportunity to move forward to make Guwahati prominent on the international sports map. Should India start a movement to make sports a compulsory subject in schools? It is frustrating to see India’s medal tally at Olympics. Even medals were won by poor African countries of Kenya and Ethiopia in long distance running. Fortunately NITI Aayog chalks out plan for Mission Olympic. The first colonised Asian nation India took part in 1920 Olympics winning first Gold in Hockey. Corporate India can take a lead and make a difference by setting up Academy. Tata group is doing a key role in India’s aspiring sports culture. India should revamp the sports policy that suited for players and trend of political appointments need overhauling.
Sports Authority of India (SAI) is a regulatory body, who is working for promotion and development of sports to the people of India. North East has two regional centres at Guwahati and Imphal. Also there are SAI Training centres (STC), Special Area Games (SAG) in the other NE States. We need SAI Centre of Excellences (COX) for this region to build up proficiency of budding outstanding sportspersons for excellence like SAI centre at Patiala, Bangalore, Kolkata and Thiruvananthapuram. Netaji Subhas National Institute of Sports (NSNIS) Patiala is called the ‘Mecca’ of Indian Sports and sportspersons from all over the country yearn to visit it. Such initiatives and better implementation can only aim towards sports infrastructure development of our region. That could be a successful contribution to the national level and to the medal tally at the international competitions.