Gangtok, 23 Sept:
Sikkim not participating in Santosh Trophy 2019-20 was the “darkest day” for Sikkim football, said former Indian football team skipper, Bhaichung Bhutia today.
Speaking to media persons here at Paljor Stadium, Bhaichung highlighted that Santosh Trophy was the biggest platform for footballers in Indian football so the absence of Sikkim team in this season of the tournament has affected the future of many young footballers.
Sikkim was placed in group-B of East Zone along with Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand for the qualifying round at Kolkata and was scheduled to play against Chhattisgarh in its first qualifying match today.
The State team did not participate in the tournament because a majority of the shortlisted players decided to boycott it to protest what they saw as Sikkim Football Association’s casual approach on the matter.
According to the payers, not enough time was given to prepare for the tournament and selection of the team members was not done following proper process.
Sikkim has its second qualifying match against Jharkhand on 27 September.
“It [the conflict between players and SFA] was a very small issue and could have been resolved easily but unfortunately because of the ego of a few individuals, it became a big issue,” Bhaichung rued.
That said, he admitted that Sikkim football and Sikkim Football Association were facing a crisis and needed to be reorganized and infused with some professionalism.
In this endeavor, clubs, players, referees, football fans and Sports department have to work together, he added.
“But that is still not an excuse for players to not play Santosh Trophy. No doubt SFA has issues but that is not reason enough. Santosh Trophy is the biggest tournament any footballer in Sikkim can play in as part of the State team and it has given platform to so many players from Sikkim in the past,” he said.
Bhaichung mentioned that a player like the current Indian football team skipper, Sunil Chhetri, was initially playing football for a small club in Delhi but after being spotted at Santosh Trophy, he was picked up by Kolkata giant, Mohun Bagan.
“Even I was just playing for East Bengal but after playing in Santosh Trophy tournament I got noticed and got selected for the Indian national team,” he said.
He mentioned that lots of young players wanted to play the tournament but were denied the chance this season.
Bhaichung mentioned that the qualifying round of East Zone is going on in Kolkata this time which has the attention of media and around 20 professional clubs. He added that media and professional clubs are going to be looking for talented footballers.
He said that some players wanted to undergo long training camps before going for the tournament and SFA was willing to provide a 10-day coaching camp for the State team.
“You do not refuse to take part in a tournament because you did not get a one-month camp. That is not fair as coaching camps are decided by associations,” he said.
He informed that West Bengal participates in tournaments without any camp and even Manipur plays with week-long coaching camps.
“I don’t think it would be fair for players to demand a one-month camp or 20-day camp as it has to be decided by the association and coaching staff,” he said. He mentioned that AIFF will now penalize the State association for not playing in the Santosh Trophy.
Sporting brand Vector-X sponsors the kits of the State team and has done so for the last three years.
“This year we were supposed to renew our contract but since we missed Santosh Trophy we may face challenges and difficulties in renewing the contract,” he said.
Bhaichung also said that SFA’s decision to ban Sikkim Aakraman FC from the premier league was not fair.
“You can ban players and officials who manhandled the referee but not the entire team,” he said.
On a police case being filed against Aakraman, he said that taking the matter to the police was uncalled for and what happens in the field should remain there.
One wrong step after another is killing football in Sikkim, he said.