Let the grass grow
Once every year, the boys from Namchi Sports Hostel get out of southern Sikkim, board a train from New Jalpaiguri and come to the national capital to take part in a tournament that is in its 53rd year.
Over the weekend that just went by, the diminutive boys, much like their predecessors, dazzled those who bothered to turn up, not letting their small stature be a disadvantage. Come Tuesday morning, though, and the team, having lost both their matches, will be on a train back home. And then, that’s it, at least till next year.
Most of the 16 members who were representing their state’s ’search for more Bhaichungs’ will be eligible next year, too, given that they are just 11 or 12 now.
But one year is a long wait – in the absence of a proper structure for sub-juniors, the Subroto Cup remains, for the under-14 boys from all over the country and not just the tiny state nestled in the eastern Himalayas, the only form of competitive exposure away from home.
At least Sikkim has a supportive state government that funds the diet of youngsters and, now, a professional football team backed by its favourite son, Bhaichung Bhutia, that plays in the I-league; Mizoram, whose state champions have reached the semis this year, can now boast of a league featuring eight teams.
But many other similarly obscure territories have not even a semblance of a senior footballing future to look forward to. Instead, they have other worries. Consider the plight of the kids from Piloo Mody High School in eastern Gujarat’s Panchmahal district, most of whom are suspected to be victims of sickle-cell disease. Or those from Utkramit Madhyamik Vidyalaya in Jharkhand’s East Singhbhum district, now headed back to months of toil in the paddy fields.
For the second-most populous country in the world to become a contender on the global football stage, it will require more than just one annual tournament apart from events sanctioned by the School Games Federation of India. For the beautiful game to grow at the grassroots, a nation-wide structure needs to be put in place. Academies, complete with the latest infrastructure and coaches who know their craft, are obviously needed. Equally important is to take into account the mélange of issues this diverse nation of ours faces in each of its unique pockets.
But above all – and this is something coaches of all the teams with visibly tinier players will agree with – there’s the need to implement measures that act as strict deterrents to pursuers of systemic age-fudging, that perennial bane of Indian sport.
- Kaushik Chatterji