Fourteen months ago, Guwahati got its first FIFA-approved football turf which is operated by a private firm Game On Arena on a hire-to-play basis. Last month, Guwahati City FC became the first-ever club from Assam to be nominated by the state FA to participate in the Indian Women’s League 2021-22 Qualifiers. Just when the football scene in Guwahati looked poised to grow in stature came the foreboding news that the biggest city in Assam will lose another ground to cricket – the Nehru Stadium.
This comes just months after an FC Goa training pitch was dug up by the Salvador do Mundo panchayat to make a cricket pitch. This was in direct violation of the Memorandum of Understanding(MoU) between FC Goa and the panchayat and the court placed a restraining order on the latter after damage to the drainage and water systems rendered the field unfit for football activities.
Ranji Trophy allocated to Nehru Stadium
The Nehru Stadium is hosting the Ranji Trophy from March 16th under permission from the Directorate of Sports & Youth Welfare, Government of Assam, led by Nibedan Das Patowary. There is no criteria that the Nehru Stadium should be used specifically for footballing purposes; however, the Board of Sports, Government of Assam, is responsible for developing all sports in the state of Assam.
The timing is of great discomfort to the All Assam Football Players’ Association and the Guwahati Sports Association as there were plans to host the 70-year old Bordoloi Trophy from March 11 followed by the Guwahati (GSA) Super Division League.
According to Patowary, the Sarusajai Stadium (home of Northeast United FC) has two fields available to use. However, neither the Assam Football Association nor the GSA has authority to use the stadium. These stadiums are government property and require permission from the necessary parties to use them. It is not easy to change the venue of upcoming tournaments at such short notice and is a worrying sign that footballing activity in Guwahati can be brushed aside easily. This in turn has led to over 500 footballers from Assam taking to the streets to protest at the treatment meted out to football in the region.
Ongoing dissatisfaction with Assam FA
The Assam Football Players’ Association have not been happy with the Assam FA over the last few years. According to the AIFF website, for the 2015 registered players across 53 approved clubs, there are only 10 grounds in the whole state. Some of the fields are college fields and are not fully dedicated to football.
According to Partha Sarmah who runs the Khel Tantra YouTube channel, the request for a dedicated football ground has been unresolved for a while. Besides that, the local leagues aren’t held in sync with each other and the Assam State Premier League hasn’t been held since 2015.
Additionally, the FA has not been diligent with giving government jobs as is the case with Alen Deory, who played for India against New Zealand in the Intercontinental Cup and represented Northeast United FC in the ISL.
On February 21, the Directorate of Sports & Youth Welfare, Guwahati Commerce College and Guwahati Sports Association reached an agreement to use the college ground exclusively for footballing purposes. The ground will host the qualifying round of the Guwahati C Division League in March. It will also be available for training purposes for clubs affiliated to the GSA. Only time will tell, if this development of football grounds will be a sustained effort, or a one-time appeasement.
While it is commendable that the Assam Football Players’ Association voices have been heard to an extent, it is worrying that footballers have to take to the streets in order to force those responsible into action. These kind of obstacles continue to hurt India’s football progress in general and in this case, football in Assam.
Indian footballing legend, Bhaichung Bhutia will arrive in Guwahati on the 25th of February to discuss matters which lead to these protests.
Partha Sarmah indicates that if talks with the All Assam Football Players’ Association by the authorities reach a satisfactory resolution, they will celebrate by hosting a friendly football game in memory of Babul Phukan – Phukan is a renowned footballing figure from the state.
The world has always wondered why India with its 1.4 billion population could never find eleven people to play football on the world stage. Maybe, it is because all the playing time is spent looking for a place to play.