No more a minnow

[M Doley]

Arunachal Pradesh is not a minnow any more in the regional and national sports arenas. By claiming the third spot in the just-concluded first NE Olympic Games in Imphal, Manipur, the state took every other participating state by surprise.
Arunachal, which once struggled to win a single medal in the regional and national events and found itself at the bottom of the medal tables, is now a dominant force in a few disciplines, if not all.
To witness the lifting of more than three quintals of weight [in total] by Commonwealth Games gold medallist Kojum Taba in the Games was mesmerizing. The performance by the karatekas, who made a clean sweep of the medals, was simply extraordinary. The home- and army-grown lifters clinched five gold medals, while the karatekas clinched nine gold medals out of the total 10.
The athletes of the state fought neck-to-neck with their opponents in every discipline – even in sprint – and made their competitors sweat for their money. Two long distance runners emerged as a force in the Games – Yabang Tali and Mudang Omo. Both of them finished second in the 10 km race in the women’s and the men’s category, respectively, while Yabang also won a bronze in the 5000 metre race.
Athletics is considered the mother of all sports, but it is still at the nascent stage in Arunachal. It is appalling that athletics is not being given the attention it should be in Arunachal. The state has won a gold medal or a silver medal in every discipline, barring table tennis, shooting and football. Also, it would be wrong to gauge the performance of the football team based on the result of a game or two.
The state has been doing well in the regional as well as national level tournaments in recent times. In the case of table tennis and shooting, the sports are still at the beginning stage in the state. The state’s champions in table tennis are junior students of a sports academy. It is expected that they will represent the state and win medals when they graduate to the senior level.
What makes the difference between table tennis topper Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh is infrastructure. There is a well set up infrastructure for almost every discipline in Manipur. All the sports infrastructures there, including administrative blocks, are housed within the Khuman Lampak Sports Complex, and are well connected with all-weather arterial roads.
The infrastructure in Arunachal, as compared to Manipur, is almost nil. This fact has been admitted by Sports Minister Dr Mohesh Chai himself. He, however, said that “a lot of infrastructure” will come up in Arunachal within a year or two.
The Arunachal Olympic Association [AOA] and persons involved in the state’s sports have been opposing the sanctioning of infrastructures worth crores of rupees under the ‘Khelo India’ scheme in remote and distant areas of the state. They say that these infrastructures should be developed in the capital complex, where sports activities are concentrated. Chief Secretary Satya Gopal, during an informal talk with the officials of the AOA at the Naharlagun helipad restroom on 23 October, assured to look into the matter.
But despite the lack of infrastructure, the athletes of the state have displayed outstanding performances. Their indomitable zeal and spirit are praiseworthy. It is an undeniable fact that there are a few individuals who have been pulling their own resources for the development of sports. They have set up their own halls and clubs to train the athletes, and their efforts have started to bear fruits.
Arunachal has been awarded the opportunity to host the next North East Olympic Games, in 2020. The state will have to prepare itself for the Games from right now by developing at least the minimum required infrastructure, as the Games cannot be held in tent houses or by erecting a pandal or two.
The government should expedite the various ongoing projects for the development of sports infrastructure. It is expected that the 2020 Games in Arunachal will provide the athletes the home advantage to reassert their dominance, and to say “We are the best” in the region.