Bhaichung Bhatia: It is time to invest in athletes, not just infrastructure

"It is time to invest in sportspersons, not just infrastructure. In North-East football, the efforts are from individual organisations or people, there's no support from the states," Bhutia said at Sportstar's first-ever North-East Sports Conclave in Guwahati.

(L-R) DGM Sports IndianOil and former Badminton player Manjusha Kanwar, Hockey Olympian Kothajit Singh, Archery Olympian Jayanta Talukdar and Bhaichung Bhutia in a panel discussion on “What needs to be done to make North East the sports hub of India” at the Sportstar North East Conclave in Guwahati on Friday.   -  The Hindu

Former Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia on Friday said that targeted funding and investment in athletes hold the key to ameliorate levels of all sports in the North-East.

"It is time to invest in sportspersons, not just infrastructure. In North-East football, the efforts are from individual organisations or people, there's no support from the states," Bhutia said in a panel discussion during Sportstar's first-ever North-East Sports Conclave in Guwahati.

"Today, the biggest league in Indian football is the ISL. If you look at the numbers today, highest no. of players playing in the ISL is from Manipur. Second is I think Bengal. Third highest is Mizoram. Assam is in fifth or sixth. Number of players from the NE is large. How are they coming? They are coming through clubs or village communities but nothing from the state association or state government," he added.

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Manjusha, DGM Sports Indian Oil, concurred with Bhutia. "Infrastructure by itself can't give you champion. It's about structure. We need to tap talent from the rural areas too. Integration of education and sports - Olympic sports too, apart from football - and trying to identify talent and bringing them to the city is important. Corporates and private sector entities and their sponsorship etc. But it starts with talent identification," she said.

Manjusha also stressed on the need to facilitate travel for North-East athletes so that they do not miss out on quality training and competitive events taking place in other parts of the country. "If you hear the stories from the past players, it's a struggle to come for camp from Manipur to Delhi first by road, then bus, and by air, that all needs to be taken care of. Authorities need to identify the talent to ensure they travel by air.

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"The travel was so long to reach Chennai to have our national championships, many people would leave the sport if you don't have the basic resources. I would like North-East to do well in Olympics sports because there is a lit of potential," she said.

Meanwhile, Indian hockey player Kothajit Singh and archer Jayanta Talukdar called on the region's stakeholders to focus towards grassroots talent for the greater good of the sports in the North-East. "Groom players from the lowest level of the sport. If they get timely training and help, they'll go on to become great athletes and win laurels," Kothajit said.

Talukdar echoed his sentiments. "When an athlete wins an Olympic medal, it isn't just his or her medal. The achievement belongs to the coach, the support staff, medical staff too and even to the groundsmen who keep the field ready for the athletes. So, spend on facilities so that the athletes can train and become successful."

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