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Amphan And Covid-19: The Double Blow Has Rocked Foundations of Bengal Football

For academies already struggling for financial aid because of the damages inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic, the super cyclone has added a new devastating blow. For most, training facilities, and housing have been nearly wiped out. Players and coaches have suffered loss to personal belongings. And yet, in a mirror image of larger governance, Indian football’s higher ups have not given the people at the bottom of the pyramid a second thought. This is their story.
Salt Lake stadium damage after cyclone Amphan hit Kolkata

An official inspects a fallen floodlight tower at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata in after cyclone Amphan devastated the city last week (Pic: Twitter, Yahoo sports).

A day after ‘Amphan’ hit the state of West Bengal and Odisha, senior sports officials rushed to the Kolkata Maidan to gauge the damage caused..

They were devastated. The super cyclone had wreaked havoc on the club tents and surroundings of several Maidan institutions, which include Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and Mohammedan Sporting. The damage, however, was much more limited at the iconic Eden Gardens. That the cyclone’s fury had somewhat spared the pitch and the outfield is the biggest relief.

Maidan has a rich history that extends over two centuries. And as devastating as Amphan was Maidan will resurrect itself. There is precedent for this. In 1909, the famous historian and journalist, HEA Cotton wrote: “Many of the fine trees with which it was studded were blown down in the cyclone of 1864. But they have not been allowed to remain without successors, and the handsome avenues across the Maidan still constitute the chief glory of Calcutta.”

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It won’t be different this time, either. Top clubs have their contacts; the administration will extend its helping hand. The great Maidan will once again rise, and thrill the eyes of the beholder. 

But what about those smaller sporting institutions in the countryside? And the people who run them? Their houses have been destroyed, their small playing grounds ravaged and most have been left without food and drinking water. To make things worse, many of these young sportspersons can’t be contacted yet. Hundreds of mobile towers and land phone lines have been blown away. What is true for most of Bengal is true for these sportspersons too.

“We are still in an absolute state of shock,” Bishwajit Majumdar, Durbar Football Academy coach said. “Most of our players come from a poor background and stay far away from the main cities. We still don’t know what has happened to them and their families. There is no phone connection available. We are extremely worried.”

The worst hit districts are North and South 24 Parganas. Several of Durbar Academy footballers come from this area. Prem Mondal, Sebak Naskar, Ajibur Mistry, Rehan Sheikh and Sumit Dolui belong to this region – they all live in the Canning and Bariupur areas. 

On the night of May 20, their modest mud houses were blown away. Within minutes of Amphan hitting these areas, the roofing of their houses was blown away. Everything they owned was lost in the span of a few minutes.

Football, Majumdar says, has now taken a backseat. “On hearing their plight we hurriedly managed to send around Rs. 3000 each for the families of these footballers. We know the amount is not much, but that was all we could do in an emergency situation.” 

There are a number of small football academies spread across the southern part of Bengal. Most of them face similar problems. The local grounds they use for training have either been completely destroyed or submerged under water. In many places trees have fallen to spoil and block the pitches. Officials feel restoring these facilities will be an expensive affair.

It is important to remember that none of these academies have deep pockets. They are run mostly on small donations. And those who make these donations are in financial trouble themselves  – the Covid-19 pandemic has played a cruel role in minimizing their earnings.

So far, there has been no help forthcoming from the local administration, the state or national associations. No one of them has even written or spoken to them enquiring about the damage. 

They are on their own. Literally so. 

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Dipendu Doari, who plays for Mohammedan Sporting and lives in Uluberia had his house damaged seriously. Shubha Ghosh and Shankar Roy, whose smiling faces were recently part of the group photographs of I-League champions Mohun Bagan, spent a harrowing night last Wednesday. They weren’t sure if they would see a sunrise again.

“First came the Coronavirus and the cancellation of Youth I-League. It was a matter of huge frustration and loss of money. This Amphan is a double blow,” Majumdar sighed. “We were planning to start training from June 1. Now we can’t even do that. I don’t know what will happen to a large number of young talents in the state.”

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