Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sikkim Searching For More Baichung Bhutia

Sikkim a state known for its natural beauty is fast becoming one of the most preferred destination for the tourists. But there is more to Sikkim, than just the natural beauty. The landlocked state, which shares its border with three countries, also has people who share a common passion for the beautiful game. After all Baichung Bhutia was born in this beautiful Himalayan State.

The dizzying heights of success, which Baichung Bhutia has achieved over the years, have made every single football lover of Sikkim proud. He has gone on to achieve something, arguably no other person from Sikkim has achieved, bringing back laurels not only to the State but also to the country. But in the year 1998 the Government of Sikkim realized that after Baichung Bhutia the state had failed to produce any footballer with the talent to succeed at the highest level of Indian football. So the Government launched a state wide campaign aptly named “Search for more Baichungs scheme” and sent coaches to all the four districts of the State to select under-14 players. This campaign was headed by Karma Yougyal the then Deputy Director (Department of Sports and Youth Affairs). After the selection process was complete a Sports Hostel was set up at Namchi (South District Headquarter) in the year 1999 where the selected players were admitted and with it the "Search for more Baichungs scheme" started taking shape. The Sports hostel offered the boys all the modern facilities needed for training along with good education as all the boys were enrolled in the Government School in Namchi. Late Solomon Lepcha and Hangu Norden Lepcha who is now the chief coach of Sports Academy of Sikkim were appointed as coaches to train these boys and to turn the dream into reality. Now the Head coach is Suren Chettri with Amos Subba as the assistant coach.

In 2006 another Sports Academy was started in Gangtok, the capital city of Sikkim, where the graduates of the Namchi Sports hostel were kept as the officials realized that the boys were still not matured enough and the Academy was set up to give some more years of exposure to the boys. Sports Academy of Sikkim is located at the Paljor Stadium and boys below the age of 17 years are trained here. The team regularly participates in the National level tournaments across the country along with the annual home tournament, The Sikkim Governors Gold Cup. The coaching team at the Academy is headed by Hangu Norden Lepcha along with Suresh Mukhia and Milan Singh. In the present times the two Sports Academies work in tandem with the Sports Hostel in Namchi acting as a feeder for Sports Academy of Sikkim.

Now with years of effort both at Namchi Sports Hostel and The Sports Academy of Sikkim in Gangtok the "Search for more Baichungs" scheme is slowly bearing fruits with the boys making it regularly to the age group national team squads along with other good clubs of the country. Many of the boys have even been taken by the defence forces in sports quotas. Nine Under-14 boys from Namchi Sports Hostel were picked up by the Indian Air Force and have been guaranteed jobs apart from playing for their team. Sanju Pradhan and Nirmal Chettri who are currently playing for Calcutta Maidan giants East Bengal are the most decorated players who have passed out from these two Academies.

The government has plans to set up even more such Academies in the State and keep on searching for more players like Baichung Bhutia. Hopefully the scheme will become even more successful in future.

Courtesy: Sonam Laden & Rinzing Pintso (Gangtok)