For parents in Manipur, it is a struggle to keep their children away from guns and drugs. And, often, it is sport that emerges as the best option.
In perhaps the only place where one can find all of these together, sport has been the passport to a better life. And it also the only state where sport forms a major part of the government policy. Having churned out successful sportspersons over the years, the state government is now moving onto the next target — an Olympic medal.
To this end the department of youth affairs and sports, in association with the Union ministry of Human Resource Development and North Eastern Council, have set up the National Sports Academy (NSA). The first of its kind in the country, training will be imparted in six disciplines — boxing, archery, taekwondo, judo and wrestling and weightlifting at the academy.
The NSA, which is scheduled to function from July 2, witnessed the final phase of selection. 60 children (both boys and girls) will be trained (from under-12 age-group) for six years. Half of the seats have been reserved for kids from Manipur and the other half for outstation candidates. “But we are not getting any response from other states. No one has turned up for trials. If we don’t get outstation participants, we will give the remaining berths to our children,” said R K Nimai Singh, secretary to the Governor of Manipur and one of the committee members of the NSA.
“Trials started a couple of months ago. The districts (Manipur has nine districts and two sub-divisions) were informed about the NSA and hundreds turned up for trials,” said Santi Kumar, deputy director youth affairs and sports. Two hundred children were selected in the first phase from which 60 will be shortlisted. Monday and Tuesday were the dates for the final selections as children and parents queued up in front of the main stadium from early morning. “Sport is the only way to keep my boy away from drugs,” said S P Vanlalsuong, who had come all the way from Churachandpur district, some 64km from Imphal.
His son, Alfred, a class V student, appeared for taekwondo trials. “I really like the sport and hope to someday become famous,” said the nine-year-old. The NSA will take care of all needs. A school is also being set up, but till that happens, youth affairs and sports officials have roped in teachers to take care of education. The entire project will cost more than Rs 50 crore and the Union Ministry has promised just Rs 20 crore. “We hope the Centre will increase the budget while the rest of the cost will be borne by the state,” said Nimai. “We hope that in five years, the NSA’s strength will rise to 600. We will have a pool of players to represent the country internationally. Our aim is to produce Olympic champions,” he added.
The attraction of jobs in the Armed Forces and the government, which are offered to successful sportspersons, forced Shila to bring her daughter. Her daughter, Reshma, a class VI student, wants to take up archery. “I want to grow up and support my family,” said the 10-year old. With hope in their eyes, the children and their parents are now waiting for the NSA to turn their dreams into reality.