Shillong, Dec 14: Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and Sports & Youth Affairs Minister Banteidor Lyngdoh today unveiled the foundation stone of the new upgrades of the JN Stadium here in Polo.

Rs 34 crore of state government money has been allocated for the renovations to the stadium, which wears a rather forlorn and shabby look despite piecemeal upgrades over the decades.

The unveiling took place at a lavish function at the stadium. Even Lyngdoh remarked that the scale of the function was more suited to a new stadium being inaugurated rather than the start of upgrades to an existing one.

There are wide ranging plans to improve the whole complex, including a Rs 97 crore (which will be financed by the New Development Bank) expanded indoor stadium to replace the thoroughly dilapidated small one that currently exists.

The plans even extend to the Shillong Sports Association Stadium, known as First Ground, where work to put in an artificial football pitch will begin in March 2022. The idea is for the stadium to be able to seat 10,000 people in the end.

The ground at the JN Stadium will return to a natural grass pitch in order to try and bring international-level football to the city. The artificial one at present has been in place for around 10 years and is in desperate need of a change. The synthetic athletics track around the football pitch is actually younger than the astroturf but is in even worse shape – this will also be replaced in the upgrades.

While sourcing funds for new infrastructure is usually difficult, Meghalaya always seems to struggle with maintaining the infrastructure once it’s there. Time will tell if the authorities can keep the renovated stadiums up to the lofty standards they will be designed to.

“After two decades we have the opportunity to upgrade the JN Stadium,” Lyngdoh said in his speech as guest of honour. “We just saw the talent in our youth (through a multi-disciplinary demonstration) and what we need is infrastructure. This is a top project of the government and we mean business.”

He added that it is his “personal dream” to see the Indian national team play in Shillong. By this the minister probably meant the men’s team, as the women’s national team has already played at the JN Stadium, during the South Asian Games in 2016.

“This stadium was constructed in the late 1980s and, finally, it will get the facelift and infrastructure improvements required,” Sangma said.

He added that work has already begun on a sports complex in Tura (named after his late father, Purno A Sangma), costing Rs 125 crore, a Rs 25 crore stadium in West Jaintia Hills and another Rs 100 crore on smaller projects throughout the state.

“So, close to Rs 425 crore is being spent on sports infrastructure, which will be a major boost to the sports sector and is being done in the interest of the youth,” the CM added.

The redevelopment at the JN Sports Complex is also necessary to the immediate future given that Meghalaya is aiming to hold several sports events in 2022 for the 50th anniversary celebration of statehood. These include the North East Olympics, National Table Tennis Championship and Meghalaya Games.

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