Shillong, Mar 2: The Shillong Sports Association (SSA) is scheduled to hold elections for its senior executive positions in the coming days and TSR believes that a radical overhaul of the association is long overdue because its organisation of football tournaments in the city is stagnating if not in decline.

Let’s start by saying that we have absolute respect for the men (and they’re all men) in the SSA. They have plenty of experience and love for football, but we need new blood and new ideas at the top if football is to grow in Shillong and the surrounding region.

We’re going to focus on football even though the body is called the Shillong Sports Association. Sport other than football has disappeared from the radar of the SSA, which has done nothing for other disciplines.

The SSA’s marquee event is the Shillong Premier League, but ‘premier’ is a description it doesn’t really deserve.

First of all the SSA can’t seem to make up its mind whether its the Premier League or the Premiere League, with both spellings being used by it. But that’s a small quibble.

Organisational failures are rife in the SSA’s tournaments. Here are those that we’ve identified:

  • Ambulances are non-existent during games, with clubs having to ferry their own players to hospital if injured.
  • A handful of ball boys were able to holdĀ the SSA hostage and force a cancellation of an SPL match in August.
  • Too many SPL matches are held in a week, draining interest in the tournament. The SSA hoped that moving football from the JN Stadium to First Ground would attract more fans, but turnout has still been pretty poor over the last two seasons.
  • Prize money in SSA tournaments is abysmal. This means that clubs (who have their own structural issues that need work) require backers with big pockets to meet the income gap.

Other aspects where the SSA is failing in can’t be summarised in a bullet point.

Security is a big one and it is multi-faceted.

Security is non-existent during games. This wouldn’t be a problem if matches were watched by docile lambs, but football spectators tend to be a passionate lot.

This was amply demonstrated during SPL 2018’s Eliminator match between Rangdajied United and Malki in October. Held at the JN Stadium, where there was (and probably still is) a large gap in the fence, fans were able to invade the ground and assault the referee as well as a couple of other people.

Malki matches are some of the most well-attended in the SPL, but even in such an important match the SSA didn’t bring in any security.

The choice of referee for that match was another massive blunder by the organisers. The lead referee, who did admittedly make a few glaring errors, had never before been used in that role and was thrown into the deep end in a high-profile contest. This referee’s colleagues later told TSR that they blamed the SSA for the violence that ensued.

The violence was, arguably, fuelled by alcohol. The organisers turn a blind eye to booze being brought into the stadium. In fact it’s almost encouraged – if you buy a bottle of the sponsor’s liquor then you’re given a free ticket for a match, which must certainly encourage people to drink at the game.

We have to admit that SSA officials threw themselves into action when the violence erupted during that ill-fated Rangdajied-Malki match, but referees in lower division matches have also been injured in other unfortunate instances.

Why any sponsor would want their brand attached to such a mess of a tournament is lost on us (even if it boosts their alcohol sales), but it’s not like the SSA has to hold back sponsors – there’s just one for the SPL, despite it being a tournament with massive potential. This past season the sponsor hoardings were only put up after the season began and you can forget about things like man-of-the-match awards (which were dished out in past seasons) or even a half decent season-ending awards ceremony.

A final gripe from us has to do with the pitch and lights at First Ground. They’re awful. One has to question the SSA for investing in such useless floodlights. It gives us headaches to watch matches under those pathetic lights and makes it almost impossible to take a good photograph of the action.

The pitch is no better with several games having to be postponed because of the havoc that rain wreaked on it and the final whammy was that the final (which the organisers must have hoped would be played in dry weather) turned into a mud fest when heavy rain fell before kick-off.

The SSA is pinning its hopes on an artificial turf promised by the Meghalaya government, but don’t hold your breath. Even if the funds are sanctioned, we would question why Shillong should have three artificial turfs right next to each other. It surely isn’t impossible to grow grass in Shillong!

It is possible that all these issues could be addressed by the same faces in the SSA. But we seriously doubt that.

That doubt is based on something we overheard last year. It was during a First Division match at the JN Stadium just prior to the Reliance Foundation Youth Sports city finals when there were a few Reliance people on the track making plans for their event. Just then an SSA official scoffed, “They only work this hard because they’re getting paid.”

Well, obviously! That’s the way the world works! Everywhere, it seems, except for the SSA, which still seems to be stuck in the era of amateur sport in a professional world.

(TSR photo)

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