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Protest by former stars and children in Guwahati

On Sunday, young children lined the streets of the city of Guwahati, Assam, to play football. However, they weren’t taking advantage of the holidays, instead participating in a protest demanding land to play soccer in the state’s largest city.

More than 500 footballers from across the state took part in a protest rally in the city demanding that at least two pitches be allowed to play football in Guwahati.

From former and current national and international level players to children who are passionate about the game participated in the event.

“There is no longer a single football field provided by the government for playing football in Guwahati. As a result, training has almost ceased and no tournaments are held in the city,” Hem Das, chairman of Assam Football Players Association, told PTI.

“Our request is simple, we want Nehru Stadium to be reopened for football. It should also be allowed in the judges’ court,” he said.

Das said football was allowed in the Nehru Stadium as well as the Judges’ Pitch through mutual agreement with cricket match organizers earlier, but for almost two months now no football is allowed in these two lands.

Speaking to PTI, Hemendranath Brahma, Secretary of Assam Football Association (AFA), said the Association does not have its own ground, although it has urged the government to do so over the years.

He said that when converting Nehru Stadium into a dedicated cricket ground, the AFA asked the authorities to provide an alternative ground for the football, which they agreed to consider.

“If the former players had a problem with Nehru Stadium becoming cricket-only, they should have opposed it during its development,” he claimed.

He also pointed out that previously football and cricket including international matches were played at Nehru Stadium but now they have been discontinued.

Brahma said the Association has submitted a list of 10 sites in and around Guwahati to the Directorate of Sports and Youth Welfare to develop a football pitch.

“We don’t have any information on the status of our proposal yet, but we assume management is working on it.” Our training ground at Bijoynagar, on the outskirts of the city, is also in the process of opening, he added.

The AFA secretary maintained that football is no longer centered on Guwahati and is being actively promoted at grassroots level by the Association.

“It would be wrong to say that the AFA does not work for the sport or for the players. We have our boys and girls who play with the national teams, we have organized more matches at the lower levels,” Brahma said.

Das, a former national level footballer, said the absence of the pitches proved detrimental to the careers of aspiring players.

He said: “Football can be played by anyone who is passionate about the game and young people are hoping for a job in the sports quota later in their career. But if they don’t have exposure in terms of games, they can’t be eligible for booking.”

A former footballer who took part in the protest said: “We are not asking for scooters or laptops. Our request is simple, we just want a pitch to play in Guwahati.”

Senior reporter Mrinal Talukdar, an avid sportsman himself, said: “They don’t ask for specialist trainers, dietary supplements or anything fancy. They just want a place to train and play.”

“Football is a cheap sport and anyone can play it. We must not deprive anyone of following their passion,” he added.

According to All India Football Association website information for its affiliate body in Assam, there are 2016 registered footballers in the state with 195 players renewing their registration this year.

The state has 152 coaches and six coaching courses, in addition to 955 umpires.

There are 53 licensed clubs in the state along with 27 registered districts, but only 10 playgrounds.

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