bhaichung bhutia: We have seen what non-footballers have done. Now, give a chance to footballers: Bhaichung Bhutia

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He is one of India’s best footballers ever. Having been associated with football in various capacities, including a club owner, Bhaichung Bhutia has now thrown his hat into the ring to be the president of the AIFF and is pitted against fellow footballer Kalyan Chaubey. Speaking to Boria Majumdar, Bhutia outlined his plans for the sport if he garners the magic number in the elections scheduled for 2 September, 2022. Excerpts:

It is indeed a welcome development to see two footballers fighting to be the AIFF president. What’s your vision for the sport, for it is going to be extremely challenging to get the sport back on track in the immediate future?
Yes, it will be challenging and that’s why it has to be done. As someone who has been invested deeply in the sport in various capacities, I am aware of what is to be done. Footballers come out of states and districts, and if you see the current state of affairs in those places, it’s not good. There are no facilities, no money, no infrastructure. If you don’t give young people the basic facilities, how do you expect them to become good footballers? The first and foremost thing is to establish a structure. Provide monetary assistance to the states and districts to make sure our young talent is able to play if they want to play. We have to hold tournaments at the district and state level for both men and women. Unless you have a system, there will never be any real growth.

So, in that regard, the U-17 World Cup should help a great deal.
Absolutely. It will and that’s why it is a very important tournament for India. It will help us focus on the grassroots. We did the boys U-17 World Cup and there is no question it helped. It will be the same for the girls. Having said that the aim is not simply to host the World Cup and play as the host nation. The aim has to be to qualify and play. Earn our right to play a world tournament. That’s where Indian football needs to get to; that’s when you are competitive at the international level. Just to host a tournament and play isn’t going to help us improve in the long term.

As a footballer, do you think you can do the job better?
It won’t be worse for sure! We have seen what non-footballers have done. Things aren’t good. We must state things bluntly here and the reality is the affairs of the Indian football are in poor shape. So, if for so long we have given opportunities to non-footballers to run the show, it is time to allow footballers to take up the job and do what they can do. I can assure you, as footballers we know what needs to be done and will certainly not do worse than what you have already seen. In fact, I want all the top footballers of this country to come forward and serve the sport in the future. Someone like Sunil Chhetri or Gurpreet Sandhu. They have seen the world and played at the highest level and are India’s best. It is very important they come forward to serve the sport in the future.

You think good players are good administrators, too? Isn’t it a very simplistic argument?
See, what I am trying to say is give us an opportunity. Footballers haven’t been given an opportunity to run Indian football thus far. I have been involved with the Sikkim Football Association for the last six years and have seen the challenges first hand. I had my own club, as you know. It is important to now utilise these learnings and serve the sport. And I can assure you I won’t do a worse job that anything you have seen. So, give us a chance and then take a call on the good and bad.

You are an Indian footballing icon. In the Supreme Court, your name was mentioned in the same bracket as Sachin Tendulkar. Do you see a possibility where you and Kalyan Chaubey can work together?
Kalyan is a fine guy but he has been away from football for the last few years. He has been a full-time politician and I don’t think he can run it as the president. The state associations and the district people will misguide him for he doesn’t know the on-ground realities. If I see he has a vision for the Indian football, I have no problems in working with him, but I don’t think he is ready yet. That’s why I say, he is a good man but he needs to work and learn about the ground realities first.

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