Former Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia said that if the Northeast has to become a sports hub, there has to be investments in the sportspersons as well along with infrastructure.

“It is time to invest in sportspersons, not just in infrastructure. In Northeast football, the efforts are from individual organisations or people, there’s no support from the states. Today, when you play I-League and ISL, you get a good salary package. It’s unfortunate that other sports in India, besides cricket, don’t give such financial benefits,” Bhaichung Bhutia said while speaking during the Sportstar Northeast Sports Conclave in Guwahati.

A host of speakers from different sports disciplines identified vexing issues in the northeast region and ways to better the playing conditions in the conclave.

Sportstar editor Ayon Sengupta said: “India’s Northeast has been at the forefront of producing such champions, and three of the country’s Olympic medal winners in 2021 – Mirabai Chanu, Lovlina Borgohain, Nilkantha Sharma – hail from this region. We, however, believe the region is yet to realise its true potential as the sporting powerhouse of the country and possibly the world. The unique topography and other local factors make it difficult to identify and nurture talent and provide the right infrastructure to budding athletes. This first-ever Sportstar Northeast Sports Conclave, a first of many, will like to hear from all of you about your views and plans for the upliftment of sports.”

Tokyo 2020 Olympic medal winners — weightlifter Mirabai Chanu (silver medallist) and boxer Lovlina Borgohain (bronze medallist) also shared their journeys.

Speaking on the occasion, Mirabai said: “I always wanted to thank everyone who was part of my early journey as a weightlifter and contributed to my progress. But after winning medals, I couldn’t find the time. So, this time, after bagging silver at Tokyo Olympics, I made it a point to thank everyone and seek blessings of all who played a part in my success.”

Sharing her experience, Lovlina said: “Like every player, the dream is to win a gold at the Olympics. My dreams aren’t fulfilled yet.”

Government’s take

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma, sharing his vision for sports development for the region, said: “We have sanctioned Rs 1,000 crore for further developing sports infrastructure in this fiscal year – the highest-ever allocation for the state – and work has already started in many projects. A world-class stadium is coming up on the outskirts of Guwahati, where we had the Chandrapur Thermal Power Project.”

“We will also build two sports complexes in Dibrugarh and North Lakhimpur and 52 stadiums at several remote locations to take sports to every corner of the state. We are also building 100 open-air gymnasiums across the state and we will organise regular village Olympics at the gaon panchayat, block and district levels,” chief minister Sarma added.

Mizoram sports minister Robert Romawia Royte said better infrastructure is key to the success of all sports in the Northeast.

“The gap is still very wide in the case of infrastructure. We have a plan to establish 24 astroturf in two years in the interior and remote areas. After completion, we will have better results (in football),” said Royte.

Meanwhile, Abu Metha, associate vice president, Athletics Federation of India and secretary-general, Nagaland Olympic Association, pointed out that while Northeast states are still grappling with insurgency, sports has the power of uniting the populace.

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