It is Sunday but Anjan Saikia does not have much time to talk. He is busy making final arrangements for the first match of the coach volleyball team at Majuli, the world’s largest river island in Assam.
The under 16 year old boys team of Upper Majuli, Saikia, which is a part of the ongoing Brahmaputra Volleyball League (BVL), is going to face a team of Monomoy tea in Jorhat and everyone in the region is excited.
“The game was to start at 11 am, but the boat carrying the team arrived late in Majuli, we are starting late. We hope to start with a win. Next month we will meet them for a game away, ”Saikia said.
“The league has a passion for volleyball in our region. A lot of new players are coming up and they are being encouraged by their parents. Other villagers are also involved in preparing the grounds so that the proper hospitality of the visiting team can be ensured, ”he said.
Although four of his wards are participating in the league, Saikia is currently coaching 62 players. Upper Majuli is being sponsored by Krishna Hazarika Rao and Asavari Parmar, both international badminton players who represented the country in several competitions.
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Saikia and Upper Majuli are not alone. Currently, 50 teams, 33 of them boys and 17 girls, representing the rural areas of Assam, are participating in BVL, which is the brainchild of Abhijeet Bhattacharya, former national volleyball captain.
After representing India at various levels and leading the team for many years, Bhattacharya joined the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) and somehow toured the game when he visited a village in Thelamara close to his hometown Tezpur. Were looking for ways to give back. 12 years ago.
“In the village, we saw about 15 girls playing volleyball while the boys were sitting and watching. When asked, he said that his volleyball had gone bad and that he would have to wait a few months to get a new one. I then decided to do something positive and sustainable for volleyball, ”he said.
Bhattacharya gave the boys a new ball and a net and began organizing matches between teams in the area. He also included the parents of the players and village elders. Soon, the matches became an anticipated activity where the villagers came to watch and cheer the teams and cooked food for all of them.
With partial funding from ONGC and support from friends, a sports hostel was built between 2014 and 2018 in Besaria near Tezpur where players could come and train. Bhattacharya also formed an organization called Rangoni Youth Sports Foundation.
A discussion with some former players started the Assam Volleyball Mission 100 in September last year with the aim of making 100 volleyball available to teams across Assam. This initiative linked Bhattacharya with 50 small teams across the state.
Soon, a three-week training program was organized under the coach of an Indian team in Tezpur to upgrade the skills of the coaches involved in these teams. For the first time, these coaches learned proper techniques to improve the fitness and volleyball skills of the players.
The next step was to create 100 players who can represent the state and country and play the game professionally. But all plans overtook the country with the Kovid-19 epidemic.
“To keep the players motivated, I developed a module to train them online. It started with young players from three tea gardens. It soon turned into the Brahmaputra Volley League, which aimed to make Assam one of the best volleyball teams in the country, ”said Bhattacharya.
While normal teams have six players per side, it was decided to have a team size with four players from one home to another to play the game – a home and away format. The host village was asked to develop a play area and arrange food and stay for visiting teams.
To provide for the teams’ kit, uniforms and travel costs, the word spread in search of sponsors who would spend at least Rs 15,000 per team. It brought in people like former Indian National Badminton Champion Aparna Popat who adopted teams.
“I came to know about it from some friends who were sponsoring the teams. I got very excited because this is something that is being planned at the ground level. My team has lost its first two games, but the joy of the children playing is worth it, ”said Popat, adding that the pub sponsors Nalbadi.
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“The idea of the league got us involved immediately. I, along with friends from school and university, join five teams. We are very positive that this initiative will change the volleyball landscape in Assam, ”said Devvrata Chakraborty, Joint Secretary, Assam Association, Mumbai.
Soon, a logo was created and someone also wrote and composed a song for the league. The logo was unveiled earlier this month by noted athlete Hema Das and the league began on 12 December, with matches held on weekends so that players could return to their homes the same day. The league ends in February next year.
“A volleyball team can start with less than Rs 2,000 – the cost for a good ball and net. The small step taken by us has been warmly received by the players and villagers and even without the involvement of the state government, it has become a movement. This is a very good sign for the game, ”said Bhattacharya.
Sunday ended on a good note for Saikia and Upper Majuli as they were able to defeat the Monomoy Tea Estate team in two straight sets.
“The format is a bit challenging as four players have to cover the court instead of six, but we are enjoying the league. I have been playing volleyball for two years and want to embrace the sport professionally, ”said Lakhiram Das, a 15-year-old captain from Upper Majuli who is a student of class 10.
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