Gangtok: When one of the biggest voices in Indian football in Padmashri Bhaichung Bhutia pitches for fund request from All India Football Federation (AIFF), one can understand the trouble state-level footballers could be facing.

Speaking on behalf of the Sikkim Football Association as a member, Bhaichung Bhutia, who previously served in the technical committee for the AIFF, said, “Most of the big or small states in India are running with no funds from the AIFF.”

Bhaichung bowled a stealth yorker comparing the Sikkim Cricket Association in the mix, claiming how the state-level cricket association is receiving Rs 15-Rs 20 crore budget from the BCCI for cricket development.

“The situation with Sikkim Football Association is so bad that the association is not even able to generate funds for team jerseys. The Sikkim team is heading to Orissa for training and practice games. Why? The expense for camps cannot be taken care of by the SFA. They are trying with all their will to support and promote football. But there is a need for intervention from the AIFF, from the state government and its sports department.”

Bhaichung highlighted how organizing leagues, camps and generating income through tickets and fanbase are the only way in taking football ahead in Sikkim.

“Football is the number one sports in Sikkim, but when we compare on our representation in the ISL with players, we only have seven. Now compare that with Manipur, Mizoram, Kerala, Bengal or Assam. They are generating teams of players for the ISL. Where do we falter?,” he said.

The former Indian football captain said, “We have no leagues happening to generate state-level players first; there are no camps, these are all expensive for an association without help from the AIFF or the state government. These states are doing things differently with funds from the state government, enough to provide training grounds for national players. But in Sikkim, when we ask for training ground for camps before the tournament, there aren’t any devoted to the association. The state level leagues cannot happen.”

In the past, Sikkim’s Santosh Trophy team refused to participate after they were denied camps before the tournament.

“This year the SFA has organised 45 days of camp for the team. Our women’s team is going to Kerala; the climate difference between here and Kerala is immensely different. We cannot even send them to Siliguri to acclimatise,” Bhaichung said.

On organizing big tournaments like Governor’s Gold Cup or any tournament in Sikkim, Bhaichung pointed, “It is a lot of expense than generating revenue for the association. It is seen as a festival, but an expensive one. The focus should be camps and acclamatization in other states. Such that they can perform well. Many players are born from Santosh Trophy, including the likes of Sunil Chettri, our captain. Along with state’s name, it is a chance at grooming the players. It should happen for every state, maybe not for bigger states in football like Kerala, Bengal, Mizoram and Manipur, who create ticket system in their leagues, attracting sponsors. But smaller states cannot. It can start with Sikkim.”

On bringing football tournaments to Sikkim, SFA member Shyam Pradhan said, “To not organize events is criminal for the players. Paljor Stadium is undergoing reconstruction of the turf. It may take months. But we stumbled upon drainage issues in the ground, so why not wait for a few more months and get the drainage sorted as per latest technology.”

Bhaichung said, “After coming back from Santosh Trophy, these players should play leagues. Paljor Stadium cannot organize. Bhaichung Stadium in Namchi would be far, expensive for the clubs, which are mostly based in Gangtok. Sharing from my own experience with USFC, it will get expensive. Other clubs need basic facilities for such tournaments. When leagues are done, the government can give financial support.”

Bhaichung, who is not part of AIFF as technical committee now, shared, “We had in the past advised Praful Patel to help small state associations with at least Rs. 10 lakh. Most big states in India do not organise leagues, as they have no funds or even experience of organizing. Sikkim is doing, but many states need such help. States generate players for the country, those that play Santosh Trophy.”

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