A Call to Hone Sports Talent in the North East

The north-east has always been in news for the discrimination it faces regularly. It comes into the spotlight for always being neglected by the rest of India. For being treated as an outsider. And things are no different in the field of sports as well.

The north-east has been poorly represented on the national podium for many years now. If we add up all the sports players representing our country from this region, it hardly comes to a good enough number. As far as sports in India is concerned, the North-easteners are naturally gifted, especially in the field of football and athletics. Yet, their representation on the national front is not worth mentioning.

This is quite ironical as sports talent is found in abundance in the north-east and it isn’t as if the region hasn’t generated some great talents in the past. Mary Kom, the boxing great from Manipur, is a fabulous case in point. Having participated in major competitions such as the World Women Boxing Championship and the Asian Women Boxing Championship, Kom also won the World Amateur Boxing gold in 2008, after a two-year sabbatical. Recipient of the Arjuna Award and the Padma Shri, she was selected for India’s highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award in August 2009, alongside boxer Vijendra Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar.

But nothing beats football in this regard. Nagaland produced Indian football team’s first captain to the Olympics, Tuleloran Ao. After a little more than fifty years, the Indian football team again has a captain from the north-east. Bhaichung Bhutia, from Sikkim, who, in fact, is the poster boy of Indian football today. Surkumar Singh from Manipur is seen following his footsteps closely. With fantastic clubs such as the Shillong Lajong generating skilled football players by the dozen, football is where a lot of talent lies. Shillong Lajong, in fact, reached the Federation Cup finals early this year and held East Bengal for a good 120 minutes before losing to them.

Even cricket is seeing some new talent from the north-east. An example is Nagaland’s Hokaito Zhimomi. The Kolkata Knight Riders trained him as part of the team even though he didn’t play an IPL match. Not only this, the left-arm bowler was also a part of the Bengal U-19’s team five years ago. Apart from this, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland joined their neighbours, Tripura and Assam, in playing their first-ever BCCI –recognized U-19 tournament in September 2007. To see a change of the sort in a game like cricket is of huge volume.

Hence, it isn’t that there is a dearth of sports talent in the north-east. In fact, it is clearly the opposite. What the region lacks is proper infrastructure. It lacks proper guidance and coaching. If the talent in the area was to be properly honed, we would have more and more sports greats from the north-east. Regular tournaments have to be held in the seven states to popularize opportunities. Each state needs to hold events and coaching camps so that the locals come forward. Also, attention from the main sports board needs to be directed to this part of the country. India has unearthed great talents like MS Dhoni, Vijendra Singh and RP Singh from small towns. Why not do the same here as well? Disappointment would surely not be on the cards.

Meghna Menon

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nasspm/4013999341/]