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Where are the players?

Around 6,800 athletes across 37 (states and union territories) teams will compete in a total of 20 sports events, including new additions - lawn bowls and cycling, in eight venues across Guwahati at the ongoing the Third Edition of Khelo India Youth Games (KIYG), stated an official release from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports ahead of the opening day.

The total strength of participation at the games, it added, is 10,000, including athletes, officials, volunteers and support staff. 

Unfortunately, out of the nearly 7000 athletes in the event touted as the biggest platform for “grassroot level hunt for sportspersons” in India, the ‘sports-crazy’ Nagaland is represented by 10 mere athletes. 

While the number is low by any standard, it is showing a diminishing trend. In 2019 edition, 13 athletes: 4- Wrestling, 2 boxing, 5 Athletics, and 2 Archery represented the state.

This year, Youth Resources & Sports Advisor had informed media earlier that out of 10 athletes, six will be taking part in Wrestling, two in Archery, and two in athletics.

In contrast, according to a PTI report, defending champions Maharashtra is fielding 751-strong contingent while the host Assam, aiming for a best-ever finish, is fielding 656 athletes in the competition.  Haryana, the champions of the inaugural edition and runners up last year, boast of 682 athletes. Other North-East states also have strong representation. 

Delhi (450), Uttar Pradesh (430), Punjab (390), Tamil Nadu (356) are the other States with more than 300 athletes each while Dadra and Nagar Haveli with 3 athletes each and the Union Territory of Ladakh, making their KIYG debut, are the only other teams with single-digit representation with two archers and five boxers, another PTI report informed. 

With 10 athletes, Nagaland narrowly passed the threshold; but this barely can be counted as an achievement.  "If a State like Haryana, which is few sq km bigger than our state can do so well in National level, why can't we?," an official was quoted as saying last year during one of the District Level Competition held under Khelo India in Nagaland, further urging the players to be more committed for increased representation at national level in coming days.

Such glorious exhortation, however, comes a cropper if the state is facing difficulties to find athletes to participate in the game whose scope has been expanded last year to allow participants in two categories, (Under 17) and (Under 21), enabling even students from colleges and universities to compete.

The present edition is part of the union Government‘s Khelo India Scheme launched during the financial year 2017-18 to achieve the “twin objectives of mass participation and promotion of excellence in sports” and “infuse sports culture and achieve sporting excellence in the country. It is a national flagship programme for the development of sports will give the sports person the platform to exhibit their skills and  revive the sports culture in India at the grass-root level by building a strong framework for all sports played in the country.

Exposure in the national arena is vital for any sportsperson from the state and Nagaland’s dismal representation in consecutive KYIG is indeed a wake of call for those at the helm of affairs. 

The problem is not lack of fund, though. According to revised Budgetary allocation at Revised Estimate stage for Khelo India scheme, a sum of Rs.199.31 crore was released to States / Union Territories for bridging gaps in sports infrastructure and holding sports competitions against the projects sanctioned by myas.  The share of Nagaland at Rs 5.30 crore, was one of the highest among 25 states and UTs in India. 

Is the recurring under representation a logistical problem or lack of talent? Is this mere apathy or policy failures?  This need to be investigated thoroughly and corrective measures should be implemented at the earliest; else the number might dwindle further.   Time is most opportune for the elusive “Nagaland Sports Policy” to see the light of the day.

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