GANGTOK: A floodlit, 15,000-capacity stadium in Sikkim, to be named after Indian football great Bhaichung Bhutia, will be inaugurated once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.
The stadium is in Namchi, which is 25 kilometres away from the 'Sikkimese Sniper's' birthplace in Tinkitam, in the district of South Sikkim.
"It's our tribute to one of the best Indian footballers. Even after hanging his boots, Bhaichung Bhutia has been a role model to many and he will continue to inspire young footballers of India, let alone Sikkim. We can't repay for what he has done for Indian football. But a stadium named after him might be a small homage towards the great footballer," Menla Ethenpa, president, Sikkim Football Association told the official website of the All India Football Federation.
With the exceptions of the Dr Karni Singh shooting range in New Delhi and the stadiums named after iconic hockey duo - Dhyan Chand and Roop Singh - this is going to be the first-ever stadium in India to be named after any footballer.
Meanwhile, Bhaichung, the first Indian footballer to play 100 International matches, stated: "I'm very much honoured and excited. If you look at the larger picture I'm happier because the budding footballers will get another top-class facility and infrastructure to play football. This stadium has produced many footballers including me. I have so many memories of playing there."
Groundwork for the Bhaichung Bhutia Football Stadium started in the 2010s before it faced many a roadblock owing to financial difficulties. After Prem Singh Tamang, current chief minister of Sikkim, assumed office, the construction work resumed.
"Our chief minister is an avid football supporter and he himself took interest to fast-track the construction work. Had the COVID-19 pandemic situation not disturbed the entire scenario, the stadium could have already been inaugurated already," Ethenpa informed further.
The artificial turf has already been laid besides setting up the 15,000-capacity stands. Ethenpa further added that the plan of installing floodlights is already in the pipeline and it'll be covered in the second phase of work.
"After resuming the work, it took less than fourteen months to finish. Chief Minister himself was monitoring the progress. The capacity of the stadium is 15,000 and we've already planned to install floodlights in the second phase."
Meanwhile, Bhutia revealed that he has submitted a proposal to establish an academy in the vicinity of the stadium which will, in turn, encourage more youngsters to take up football.
"We have already spoken with the state government about setting up a football academy. It will be a joint venture between the government and United Sikkim - the biggest semi-professional football club in this region. It'll provide a platform for the youths to play football. We look forward to hosting Golden Baby Leagues too," the Padma Shri awardee quipped.
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