Former Indian football skipper Bhaichung Bhutia during the 7th Young Leaders Connect in New Delhi on Saturday Credit: EastMojo image

Guwahati: Bhaichung Bhutia has expressed happiness over his party, Hamro Sikkim Party’s (HSP), in the recently held by-elections in Sikkim stating that they have performed better compared to the Assembly elections held in May this year.

The former Indian striker added: “But obviously, this by-election was difficult… because we were not expecting the ruling government SKM [Sikkim Krantikari Morcha] and BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] to do a coalition and give the seat to BJP.”

Speaking on the sidelines of Young Leaders Connect in New Delhi on Saturday, Bhutia said that HSP is merely a year old, and they are just building their organisation now. But they are aiming for the 2024 Sikkim Assembly elections.

Talking about his transition from sports to politics, the Padma Shri awardee said that it has been difficult to get out from the image of a sports icon to a politician. “You have a certain image which people have in their mind, and then you… try and build another image is something difficult. So I think it does take time, which I understand.”

On being the biggest football icon in India and not at the helm of affairs of All India Football Federation (AIFF), while Sourav Ganguly, a renowned cricketer is now heading BCCI, Bhutia said, “I did work for AIFF as the technical committee chairman for three years and advising for another two years.”

“In fact, when I was technical committee chairman, we were ranked 176, and with right kind of people in the federation, we had set up a plan and we got in the right people to work with us. We brought Indian football to top 100,” he added.

Bhutia stated that it’s easier for Sourav Ganguly to lead BCCI as it’s the richest sporting body in the world, not just in India. “You’ve got full financial support and as well as manpower, it becomes much easier whereas other sports in India today does struggle if you want to organise the league as well. You’re running from pillar to post to find sponsorship to find that money. So it becomes very, very challenging for a sportsperson to really head other sports apart from cricket. So that’s why I think you’ll see only a politician with powerful background, leading lot of sports federation apart from cricket,” he added.

“It is challenging, but I’m sure once football and other sports can generate good sponsorship, there’s no problem with the revenue and also manpower. And we have committed people who’re really working or wanting to work for the sport, then it becomes easier for any sportsperson like me to also go in head the federation,” said the footballer turned politician.

Talking about ISL matches and the dwindling craze around the league, Bhutia said when it’s new, it does get the hype and people are interested to watch it, but “at the same time, I think, the players’ profile, especially the foreigners also, I think, it’s gone down from what it used to be. So I still feel it’s good quality, ISL is still good quality. Yes, the hype and the brand what we had in initial ISL is missing for sure… so I think that could be one of the reason. But I think if the media can cover our matches and also let the information to the people I’m sure you still have that kind of interest and spectators in the studio”.

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