Northeast Sportspersons over the years have developed a habit making it big at national and international sports events. A positive sports culture in the region has yielded numerous medal winners and world champions who have stamped their authority on the global stage. As a sports promoter, we can proudly say that it is the un-official sports capital of India that is helping many youngsters and their families to come out of poverty through sports.
The Northeastern states of India are home to some of India’s most recognised international players. Just to name a few, M.C. Mary Kom – 2012 Olympics bronze medallist and a five-time world amateur-boxing champion, footballer Baichung Bhutia, boxer L. Sarita Devi, silver medallist at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Jayanta Talukdar, Gold Medalist and Arjuna Award winner, weightlifter K. Sanjita Chanu, who won gold at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and Mirabai Chanu, who broke the national record to win the World Weightlifting championships are just some of the renowned names.
Population wise Northeast India constitutes only about 3.7% of the total Indian population. The youth out there are well-known for their inclination towards various sports, especially Manipur.
To give a fact, out of the entire 2016 Rio Olympics contingent, around 7%, were northeast sportspersons.
Why are Northeast sportspersons at the forefront of Indian Sports? Let’s crunch some numbers!
- As of June 2017, a whopping 14000 talented northeast sportspersons are being trained under Sports Authority of India (SAI) schemes throughout the country. From this 10000 are boys and 4000 are girls.
- 23%, which is 910 out of 4000 of girl trainees at SAI centres are trained in the North-Eastern States of Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura. They are provided with regular sports training in 27 sports disciplines on residential and non-residential basis in 290 SAI sports centres.
- One of the fourteen SAI Regional Football Academies in the country is in Imphal. Out of the five proposed NSAs, the government has plans to set up an SAI National Archery Academy in Guwahati.
- According to a 2016 case study published by the International Education and Research Journal, Assam and Manipur already have synthetic athletic tracks for all-weather competitions. In addition, these northeast belt has good number of sponsorship’s from corporate giants and other public sector-undertakings, which in-turn helps promoting physical education and sports in the region.
- As a child growing up in northeast you are naturally motivated to participate in sports from a young age. The general opinion of the people in Northeast India is that physical education should be implemented as a compulsory part of school and college curriculums. They believe that sports leads to the overall development of their youth. Unlike other states in the country where sports and games are thought to be a waste of time and a distraction from studies, northeast sportspersons are setting new benchmark for the country.
- Around 82.77% of people from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland believe that physical education and sports helps their region in curbing the menace of drug addiction, HIV, alcoholism and terrorism activities among the youth.
- Northeast sportspersons have given back to their communities by supporting and guiding young athletes from their native lands. Mary Kom and Kunjarani Devi have opened a Regional Boxing and Weightlifting academies in the region. These academies provides free coaching to students with free lodging and food and covers additional expenses involved during competitions.
- Another example of northeast sportspersons giving it back to their society is Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools. The schools were set up in metros like Mumbai and Delhi, by Bhutia after his international recognition.
Northeast Sports Persons – Getting Positive support from the Centre and State Government
When it comes to generating funds and using them for sporting activities, the Northeastern states stand apart. Around 9% of the National demand for funds to develop sports infrastructure and conduct sports competitions under the new central scheme ‘Khelo India’ came from the North-Eastern states.
The Khelo India program provides funds for conducting sports events in two age groups of under 14 and under 17. This is to encourage mass participation of both boys and girls in sports and creation of sports infrastructure facilities.
Even before the Khelo India program, out of the Rs. 191.25 crore spent from 2014- 2016, under the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Abhiyan (RGKA) and the Urban Sports Infrastructure Scheme (USIS), 17.2% of the national demand came from the Northeast.
The state of Assam’s expenditure on Education and Sports at 35% is much higher than the national average of 16%.
Here are some of the renowned northeast sportspersons who made India proud at national and international sports events.
Northeast Sportspersons – Baichung Bhutia of Sikkim
Baichung Bhutia belongs to the Bhutia tribe in Sikkim. He is very well known as a player who was the star strike for the East Bengal I League football team. Baichung Bhutia is very well known in the international football circles and he is said to be the face of Indian football.
In Sikkim he is hero worshiped and thousands of young boys look upon him as a role model. He is famously known as the “Sikkimese Sniper” due to his efficient football shooting skills.
Bhutia has played for teams like the British Club, the JCT Mill club, Mohun Bagan Club etc. In the 2009 Nehru cup series he received his 100th international cap. He also won the SAFF Championship and the AFC Challenge Cup. In 2010 Baichung Bhutia founded the series of football schools known as Baichung Bhutia Football Schools in partnership with Nike. He recently retired after playing his last match in January 2012.
Northeast Sportsperson – Mary Kom of Manipur
Mary Kom was decided to become a boxer by witnessing the success of Dingko Singh in 2000.
Due to her talent, Mary Kom went on to become best female boxer India has ever produced. She is a 5 time world champion in Amateur Boxing championships and has won medals in all the 6 world championships. Fondly called “Magnificent Mary”, till date she remains the only woman who not just qualified for the 2012 Olympics, but gave India its first ever medal in her category.
Mary Kom bore the Queen’s Baton in 2010 during the 2010 commonwealth games in New Delhi. In October 2014, this shining light of northeast sportspersons won the first Gold Medal of her career at the Asian Games in South Korea.
Northeast Sportpersons – Jayanta Talukdar from Assam
One of the best stars in the International archery circuit; Jayanta Talukdar has brought Assam international acclaim in the archery circuit. He was a part of the Indian Archery squad in 2004 Olympics. His best performance was winning the gold medal in FITA Meteskan in the 2006 World Cup.
Jayanta Talukdar is bestowed with ‘Pratham Bharatiya TIRANDAJ’ award for his contribution to the sport. In the year 2006 Jayanta Talukdar won the gold medal at the Asian chapter of South Asian games before going on to win the bronze medal in the 2006 Asian Games.
Jayanta won the Gold Medal in the Archery World Cup in Porec Croatia. He went through a losing streak in 2009 but still retained number 1 seed status in the Copenhagen World Cup. On 2010 Jayanta won the bronze medal in the individual episode in CWG in New Delhi and then qualified for the 2012 London Olympics in 2012. On 21st June in 2012 Jayanta Talukdar won a place in the Indian men’s recurve archery team in 2012 London Olympics Team.
Northeast Sportpersons – Shiva Thapa of Assam
Shiva Thapa is a resident of Guwahati, Assam. He is supported by Anglian Medal Hunting Company who belongs from Guwahati. Shiva Thapa was a part of the Indian contingent that participated in the 2012 Olympics. At that time he became the youngest boxer to appear and win a position in the Olympics. Shiva, one of the talented northeast sportspersons was ranked 3rd in the Bantamweight Category according to the AIBA World Ranking. Shiva became only the third Indian who has won the gold medal in the Asian Games boxing. He is also the youngest Indian to win the Gold medal at any international competition.
Shiva who was born as the youngest of 6 kids in an economically modest family was inspired by his brother Gobind Thapa, who was a state level boxer. In 2016, the non profit organization Olympic Gold Quest took Shiva on board and supported him in the various tournaments.
Northeast Sportspersons – Kunjarani devi from Manipur
Kunjarani Devi is one of the greatest women weightlifters, not just in India but the world. By sheer hard work and determination she has broken all records, winning a staggering 50 plus international and national medals.
To give you a count, Kunjarani has won 3 gold, 31 silver and 12 bronze medals in international competitions. She has been rated by the International Weightlifting Federation as one of the top 100 greats of all time.
In the Indian National Championship she has won 23 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals. In the 1990 Asian Games, Kunjarani won the Bronze Medal. She repeated the same feat at the same event in 1994 Asian Games. This time as well she won a bronze medal.
Her performance in the World Championship was also good. She has won 19 silver and 1 bronze in the Championship. In 1998, Kunjarani clinched the gold medal in the women’s 48-kg. Category in the weightlifting event of the 17th Commonwealth Games.
Northeast Sportspersons – Mirabai Chanu from Manipur
Saikhom Mirabai Chanu gave India its first gold since 1995 at the 2017 Weightlifting World Championships. Hailing from Manipur, this diminutive girl lifted a whopping 194 kg lift in the women’s 48kg, and set a new national record.
Mirabai overcame not only personal hardships, but also tackled professional disappointment. She lifted approximately four times her body-weight, to claim gold at the World Championships. Coming from a financially critical background, Chanu is employed with the Indian Railways.
Earlier, the young Manipuri tasted bitter disappointment at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Her debut appearance did not go well and she was one of two lifters who did not finish the event.
Her idol is Kunjarani Devi whose inspiring performance at the 2004 Olympics made her take up weightlifting.
Can the rest of India follow the example of the Northeast Sportspersons and their sporting culture?
Incorporating sports into a child’s education adds to his/her holistic growth and personality development. The Northeast sportspersons are very enthusiastic in demanding better sports infrastructure and facilities in their regions. More states in the country should follow the example of the Northeast. Follow them, not just to produce better sportspersons for India, but also to help build a better society for the future generations.