Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Sikkim soccer gets FIFA lifeline


NEW DELHI, June 18: When Bhaichung Bhutia charmed everyone with his talent and put Sikkim on India’s football map in early nineties, it was expected that this tiny Himalayan state would give the country many more of his ilk.

However, even as North-Eastern states like Manipur and Mizoram made rapid progress in Indian football, Sikkim continued to stagnate.

Now, thanks to FIFA’s Goal Project, the state can hope to make some impact. FIFA has granted $ 400,000 to Sikkim Football Association (SFA) for constructing a football pitch and a training centre at Gangtok under the Goal Project II Scheme.

Incidentally, Sikkim became the first Indian state to get this grant from the world body. Bangalore has received a similar amount under the same project, but later.

Bhaichung, who gave Sikkim an identity both at the national and international levels, feels that the absence of football grounds has been the main hurdle in Sikkim’s path. "Besides the Palzor Stadium in Gangtok, where are the grounds? We need a couple of more where kids can train and play," Bhaichung said.

Bhaichung should have something to smile about now. SFA’s president Tempo Bhutia told TOI from Gangtok that construction work is moving in the right direction. "Projects have been undertaken to ensure that the state produces more talent like Bhaichung. The government is keen to spread football in rural areas where camps for U-12 boys are being organised," Tempo said.

The Sikkim government, in order to fasttrack the project, has already donated four acres at Sichey near Indira Bypass, where construction will soon begin. Apart from that, FIFA has also laid emphasis on the construction of a football house below Norkhill Hotel. "The construction work is likely to be completed within one-and-half year," said Tempo.

Both Sikkim and Karnataka were quick to respond to FIFA after the world body came up with its Goal Project for India last year in July. The understanding was that states which came up with land would be awarded the projects.