Monday, December 5, 2022

What ails Nagaland sports?

Nagaland came to lime light in the world of sports when Dr T. Ao captained the first Olympic football team of independent India. But it took 64 years for Nagaland to produce another Olympian in the person of archer Ms. Chekrovolü.
While our neighboring states are making leaps and bounds in the field of sports, Nagaland, which hitherto had dominated games and sports in the region, appears to be in a quagmire. It is an undeniable fact that the games and sports scenario in Nagaland demands an honest and a thorough introspection both by the sports persons and the officials manning the sports affairs in the state. What ails games and sports in Nagaland? Who should take responsibility for the lack of performance, motivation and sports promoting activities in the state? Do we have adequate facilities to encourage and train our youngsters? Do we have a sports policy for the state? If the state has one, is it adequate and befitting to the changing time? And why not let the public, particularly the sport lovers know the policy? What are the initiatives taken by the State government to develop sports as an industry in Nagaland? These are some pertaining issues which stands to challenge all people concerned with the growth and promotion of games and sports in Nagaland. Unless these issues are sincerely and honestly examined it appears sports in Nagaland will continue to go downhill.
It is sad to observe that 59 years after achieving Statehood, Nagaland could not make any progress in the field of games and sports. It is even more pathetic that the medal hauls of our neighbouring states and the laurels their sports persons have brought to India has failed to stir the mind of the sports bodies in Nagaland. This conspicuous absence of concern might have prompted Mr L. Dikho, a Minister from Manipur to say “It is high time Nagaland should learn from its closest neighbour, Manipur”, while gracing the 21st NSF Martyrs Trophy at the Kohima IG stadium. On the occasion, the Minister also went to inform that Manipur has around 5000 registered football players in the international and national circuit and has also got an MP in the Rajya Sabha through sports. Nagaland appears to be oblivious of the sporting activities in the neighborhood and has become so contented with mere participation.
The Annual Administrative Report 2021-22 of the State Department of Youth Resources and Sports has claimed to have 23 coaches in 13 sports disciplines and 6 PIS with 24 associations affiliated to the Nagaland Olympic Association (NOA). The Department is also said to have ten top most priority disciplines with special emphasis on Football, Archery, Sepaktakraw, Boxing, Wrestling, Athletics, Badminton and Cricket. But where is the “special emphasis” action and its achievements? Has the department allocated adequate fund to these priority disciplines? Does the fund spent on these disciplines in anyway commensurate the achievements?
The report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee for the preparation of Olympic Games 2021 highlighted the shortage of coaches, sports equipment, human and technical support, funding, investment and the need to recognize sports as an industry. These requirements are in fact the preamble for any sports development body. The state government, the Nagaland Olympic Association and all officials concerned with the development of sports and games in the state are much aware of this. Unfortunately, we have chosen to turn a deaf ear to the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee with no action taken.
That the Nagas are obsessed with the game of football is amply evident when way back in 1938 a team representing Kohima village captained by Late Rev Pehielie, with his son Samuel Mezhür as the goal keeper, Late Dr T. Ao and his brother Late Noksangyuba, Late Zopianga (former Chief Secretary) and others participated in Sir Chura Chand Shield at Imphal and brought, perhaps, the first away from home championship trophy. Twenty years later, the same team led by Late Z. Obed, (another former Chief Secretary) brought home the trophy again. The outstanding performances in the Subroto Cup beginning from 1967 and the dominance of football in the region during 1970s till late 1980s speak of the in-built potential of the Nagas in the game. Ironically, as the game emerged to greater heights demanding better infrastructure, more funding, better technical training and other inputs, football in Nagaland began to go decline. If the present state of affair is any indication, there is not much we can expect.
In a gesture to promote the game of football and to honour the legendry footballer, a foundation stone for Dr T. Ao Regional Football Academy was laid on 8th of June 2018, at Dimapur. Ironically, today, to the eyes of many football and sports lovers, the foundation stone stands as a symbol of negligence.
During the early days of Taekwondo in India, Nagaland once again came to limelight with Mr P. Shilas winning the Gold and Mr Pfüleikhrie Keretsü winning the bronze medal in the National Games 2007. The State Taekwondo team had an unflinching record in the National Junior and Sub-Junior, National School games. We even had Heutingyi Zeliang representing India in the World Junior Taekwondo Championship and Keyingchigongbe securing 8/9 medals at national recognized Championships. But all these are now history. As the next Asian Games draw near, we await to see if the state governing body can restore Teakwondo to its former glory.
Sepaktakraw is a relatively new discipline of sports in the Nagaland. When the game was first introduced in the state, our players not only participated in many national and international tournaments but also made significant achievements. Just the other month, three players from Nagaland, Mr Viseyie Koso, Ms Akumtila and Ms Sezevolü represented the national team in the 35th Kings World Sepaktakraw Championship in Bangkok and brought laurel to the nation. Earlier Viseyie Koso, the present captain of Indian Sepaktakraw team, became the first Naga sportsman to represent India in the 2010 Asian Games. Mr Koso and Ms Keneileno Nakhro again represented India in the 2014 Asian Games with Mr Holshe Khrieo as the national coach. Having come this far, one wonders what will be the fate of Sepaktakraw in Nagaland when such performances could not even arouse the mind of our people in power to provide an exclusive indoor stadium for the game.
The people of Nagaland were extremely delighted when Olympian Chekrovolü, Honezo Thisa (Gold medalist the National Games 1994 and Kilenmeren (Gold Medalist in the World Police Meet) brought fame to the state in Archery. The outstanding achievement of Chekrovolü, Honezo and Kilenmeren has motivated thousands of our youngsters and their interest in the game. But what have we done to facilitate the young archers and to further the glory brought by these trend setting sports persons?
A cursory glance in the other sports discipline such as boxing, wrestling, badminton, table tennis and athletics clearly reveal that our youngsters have a great deal on inbuilt potential but the mechanism to channelize these potentials are conspicuously missing. A glaring evidence is how our Women Table Tennis Team was able to win the Bronze Medal in the North East festival commemorating Azadi Ka Amrit Mohotsav at Imphal in May 2022 although Nagaland has not had a Table Tennis Coach for almost three decades. The sickness of sports and games in Nagaland is not only in the failure to prepare and equip our sports persons but is also seen in the utter lack of motivation and incentive to our sports persons. Visiyie Koso the captain of Indian Sepaktakraw team is a havildar in Nagaland Police. Of the two Naga women who were in the National Sepaktakraw team, Jwensile is a constable in the BSF while Keneileno Nakhro is now a cultivator. Having no opportunity provided by the state, Heutinyi and Keyingchigongbe joined the Indian army as sepoys. In contrast, during the recent exhibition football match between Kohima Town Club XI and Manipur ISL XI at Kohima it was observed that players from Manipur came driving their own private vehicles in a convoy of Range Rovers, Fortuners and Ford Endeavors. It is no surprise that Manipur has so many young people committed to sports.
The writing on the wall is all clear and loud. There is an urgent need for our sporting bodies and sports administrator to wake up from their slumber. The state is in dire need of a comprehensive sports policy. Sending delegations of ministers and government officials to witness Olympics, World Cup etc. is not going to serve the purpose of sports and games in the state. If sending contingent of ministers and officials to such events could further sports in the state in any way, the status of games and sports in Nagaland should be, by now, the envy of everyone.
People who cannot deliver need to pave way for new dynamism to take over. It may be noted that the Supreme Court and more recently the Madras High Court has ordered that henceforth, the position of the President, Vice President and Secretary of all Sports Clubs, Association and Federation in the state must be held only by a sportsperson and not by politician and business people.
The Nagaland Olympic Association and its subsidiary governing bodies for the different disciplines must be characterised by proper composition capable of ethical and responsible decision making and in keeping themselves accountable to the people and the state. Sporting bodies must prepare annual sports calendar and implement a vision and strategic plan for its sports and determine how it will be implemented locally, regionally and at the state level. They must encourage and grow participation. They must organise and host competition at various level. And above all, provide facilities and equipment to the sports person, provide technical support – both in terms of material and manpower, and provide incentives and motivations for the young people to commit themselves to sports and games.
The purpose of this write up is not to malign any individual or group but simply to rejuvenate games and sports in the land of a people who hold games and sports very close to their heart and life.
Royal Club, Kohima

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