Shillong, Sep 17: The Meghalaya government has initiated projects to the tune of Rs 500 crore to develop infrastructure in the state in order to produce an Olympian in the next few years.

Responding to a call attention notice moved by Mawsynram MLA Himalaya Shangpliang in the Assembly today, Chief Minister Conrad Sangma said that India’s youth had put on such a terrific performance at last month’s Tokyo Olympics, which made the whole country proud.

While there were medallists from the other North East states, Meghalaya has yet to give India even a participant, let alone a medal winner at the Olympic level.

“Given the large youth population and the sporting culture, the government felt that concerted efforts need to be made with a goal of having Meghalayan athletes representing the country in the 2024 and 2028 Olympics,” Sangma said.

In this vein, the government passed the Sports Policy in 2019 and Youth Policy this year.

On sports infrastructure, Sangma said the Department of Sports and Youth Affairs has started building world class sports infrastructure in Shillong, Tura and West Jaintia Hills’ Wahiajer.

He said rural infrastructure including football grounds, running tracks and basketball courts are being constructed across many locations.

Some of the biggest upgrades will take place at the JN Sports Complex in Shillong.

Usually a hive of sports, that is before the Covid-19 pandemic arrived, the complex is a little rundown. The upgrades, however, will give it an Olympic-sized swimming pool, practice pool, fitness centres, five national-level tennis courts, a multipurpose indoor stadium, squash courts, table tennis hall, jogging track, open amphitheatre, shooting ranges, as well as banquet halls, cafeteria, restaurant and administrative office space.

The JN Complex upgrades have been divided into three projects, the most-advanced of which is the Rs 96.48 crore slice for the integrated indoor sports hall, whose detailed project report is prepared and technical sanction and administrative approval granted. The other slices are the Rs 39.01 crore upgrade to outdoor sports facilities and Rs 39.39 crore for the aquatics and tennis side of the complex.

Meanwhile, the CM also informed that construction for the PA Sangma Integrated Sports Complex (named after his late father) is progressing at a good pace, with the football stadium expected to be completed by this December.

The total estimate for new and upgraded infrastructure at the site near Tura is Rs 127.98 crore.

The project comprises two indoor complexes and an outdoor football stadium, including a FIFA compliant football field with modular lighting, seating capacity of 9,500, VIP seating gallery and lounge, swimming pool (not of Olympic length), eight-court badminton hall, table tennis hall, four squash courts, cafeteria, open air dining space, public plaza and administrative office space.

For West Jaintia Hills, Wahiajer has been selected for a FIFA-approved synthetic football turf, and synthetic athletics track. The stadium will have a seating capacity of 3,000, VIP and media galleries and administrative office space. All this at an estimated cost of Rs 24.97 crore.

Other stadiums, mini-stadiums and indoor stadiums are in the works for Ampati, Bajengdoba, Chenanggre and Jongksha.

In addition, the CM said that 57 grassroots level sports projects, comprising renovations and new constructions, have been sanctioned in 2020-21 for Rs 20.72 crore and 110 projects in 2021-22 amounting to Rs 67.86 crore.

“In total, the government has initiated sports infrastructure projects with a total investment of about Rs 500 crore. Such large-scale investments in the sports sector have never been done in the state before. This infrastructure would provide the foundation for the youth of the state to participate and achieve competitive excellence,” Sangma said.

Another aspect to achieving sporting excellence is the organisation and conduct of competitions and tournaments, he added.

Meghalaya was meant to host the 39th National Games next year but the Covid pandemic has disrupted this plan.

The state government, in close coordination with the Meghalaya State Olympic Association and the various state sports associations, is in the process of submitting bids to host various competitions in 2022 as Meghalaya celebrates the golden jubilee of statehood. In March, Sangma had told the Assembly that the Meghalaya government aimed to bring in the North East Sports Festival and National Table Tennis Championships to the state next year.

The CM also said today that establishing centres of excellence with state-of-the-art sports science equipment and experienced technical manpower are all essential ingredients in producing champions.

The JN Complex has been accorded accreditation under the Union Sports Ministry’s Khelo India programme. Under this, three Olympic disciplines (boxing, athletics and archery) are slated to be supported technically and financially with a grant of approximately Rs 8 crore over a period of four years.

“This would enable the state government to mobilise qualified and experienced coaches and technical manpower and procure modern sports equipment, which would aid in the nurturing of sports talent in the State. Over 10 centres in the state have received accreditation from the Khelo India scheme as district level small Khelo India centres,” he said.

Finally, identifying the right talent is the next key step to getting a Meghalayan in the Olympics.

For 2024, the right age group to identify and nurture would be those in the 15-20 age group.

“For the 2028 Olympics the relevant target age group would be much younger. We are putting in place a talent identification and development programme in coordination with the MSOA,” Sangma said.

Under the programme a large number of children under different age groups would be screened and those exhibiting potential would be channelled into more structured training programmes. This programme shall be conducted using globally accepted online and offline testing methods.

“In conclusion, I strongly feel that with world class infrastructure, the right talent identification and development mechanism and with access to high quality coaching, our athletes will be able to excel and represent the country in the Olympics,” Conrad said.

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