Assistant Professor, Dept. of History, Tetso College, Sovima
In a time where socio-politico problems have overshadowed every sphere of life in the state, it’s good to look at other issues which demand attention. The question is of the development of sports in general and football in particular, in our state.
Why is football not developing in Nagaland when our neighbouring north-eastern states like Mizoram, Manipur and Meghalaya have already achieved great strides? There are no easy answers but I would like to dwell on few issues which are hampering the development of sports in general and football in particular in our state.
One would have witnessed how, in the recently concluded Kohima Premier League, most of the matches were played in muddy waters. Any footballer would tell you that you cannot decide the best teams if played on such conditions. Today, Mizoram has five artificial turfs, with Meghalaya and Manipur also having few in their kitty. What about Nagaland! Shockingly, we have none. There is one coming up in Jalukie in Peren district which is also in the same state like any other stadiums in Dimapur are: incomplete. One can ask, why was the artificial turf made in Jalukie, when the state capital Kohima host the maximum number of tournaments? For that we will have to ask certain politicians. But one thing is certain that we don’t have the pre-requisite infrastructure in-place unlike our neighbouring states. Now, one question to be asked is, is it so difficult for one state govt. to have at least one football ground worth the name? Now, this brings us to apathy and neglect from the side of the government. While most of us love football, when it comes to development of infrastructure, seems like the politicians are keener to make us play at the top of their mansions and villas/resorts.
Secondly, we hear of Nagaland team being crowned champions of under-14 & Under-17 Subroto International tournament almost every year. But how is it that we don’t qualify even for Santosh trophy main draw? How come the excellent players in the junior team don’t perform correspondingly well in their senior stages. The answer is simple. We win by sending over-aged players and think only of winning at present, but not on how we can develop the game in the long run. This is where we fail to invest in the grass root and in the future players. For heaven’s sake, let’s stop sending over aged players which is both unethical as well as un-fair.
Thirdly, we used to see how the Nagaland Police team used to win many major tournaments in the state, including Royal Gold Cup. Those watching the matches would testify that, in few instances, they won more by might and Rough-play than by pure talent. Whereas, we never hear of them wining tournaments when it is outside the state because they can’t use their ‘Amar-mati’ style anymore when they go outside the state. This method of winning should stop.
Fourthly, why are premier leagues performing and running exceedingly well in Mizoram, Manipur and Meghalaya and not in Nagaland. The answer is a bigger problem of having less private companies to sponsor. But even the leagues in the aforementioned states rarely have big corporates sponsoring. It is mainly the community that sponsors due to which it is able to survive. In Nagaland, it was the contractors and politicians who run the teams when the Nagaland Premier League (NPL) was organised. When the funds stopped for the politicians and contractors, so was NPL.
While it is desirable to have a whole-Nagaland based Premier League, with a home and away basis in all districts, logistically, this is not viable. Perhaps, we can have a whole Nagaland based teams but the tournament to be held only in Kohima. This would save a lot of money for the teams and lessen the organisational hassle even for organisers.
Secondly, its high time players also become more professional. We can’t just keep having players playing just 3-4 months in a year when tournaments like Classic cup, NSF Martyr’s trophy and Royal Gold Cup come up. We need clubs and players who can play at least 10 months a year.
Thirdly, whether we like it or not, one assessment is that, players in Nagaland are less hard working than those, say, in Manipur and Mizoram (not that they lack in talent). There was a time during my playing days, when people from Mizoram would come and play in a small club in Kolkata, earning just Rs.5000 a month. But with that basic salary in a metropolitan city, they had the spirit to persevere whereas those from our state would give up at the slightest distress.
Fourthly, it’s time to emulate the Mizoram model of Community based sponsoring of teams which would weather-proof no matter whether the contractors and politicians run dry or not.
Can we keep boasting of a certain Dr.T.AO while being pathetic at present? For the record, though football is our main sports, we don’t even have a single player making his mark in the I-league, forget about the Indian Super League (ISL). There was one player in the I-League playing for Aizawl FC but sadly, he got very few match-times. Whereas Mizoram has at least 50 players plying their trade both in I-League 1ST Division and 2nd division. Besides Mizoram, Manipur and Meghalaya also has a team each now in the I-League main division. When can we have a team from Nagaland!
Moreover, the failure in football is a bigger problem of our failure in every sphere of sports. This can be gauged from the fact that Nagaland didn’t win even one medal in the last National Games held in Kerela. It’s high time for us to wake up instead of basking in glory of past achievements. The world around us have changed beyond our comprehension. It’s time we take a collective responsibility to develop this beautiful game. Besides, even in games like wrestling, for which we keep seeing tournaments coming up now and then, players should be made to play in such a way that the rules comply to at least one form of wrestling that is played nationally so that those who excel in ‘Naga Wrestling’ might also excel in the national level, benefitting themselves as well as bringing laurels to the state. There is a great scope for games like Badminton, Sepak Tekraw, Table Tennis etc. to grow in the state because we are more flexible in our body movements compared to mainland Indians.
Lastly, a sporting culture also needs to develop and grow which would go a long way in promoting sports, fitness and good health in a time when physical works have become lesser and gone.