Sports enthusiasts, whether spectators or athletes, have been left divided by the out of the blue demand by the Khasi Students Union (KSU) recently that only Khasi, Jaiñtia and Garo tribals should represent Meghalaya in sporting events.
KSU general secretary Donald Thabah said on Saturday that it does not matter whether the non-tribals are talented or not, they should be barred from representing the state in order to boost local talent. According to him, there should be no exception for non-tribals who have a resident certificate or who are married to locals.
This demand has garnered plenty of opinions from across all ethnic divides. There have been almost 200 comments on the story on the Highland Post Facebook page, some in support and some opposed to the KSU.
However, sportspersons and sports officials spoken to are clearly opposed to such a move, though none wanted to be identified publicly.
“Sport has such a huge potential to bring people together but here we find the KSU trying to divide,” a coach employed in the Directorate of Sports & Youth Affairs said. “If you look at all the sports that we organise for the youth, right from the block level upwards, I would say 90 per cent of the participants are from the tribal population.”
The KSU specifically mentioned the cricket and basketball associations as being guilty of fielding non-tribals in their state teams.
In reaction, a former official of the Shillong Cricket Association said that, for its part, it has been trying to get more tribals into the game but has only experienced limited success.
“Most of our [tribal] boys love football more than cricket and there is nothing wrong with that. Many have gone on to play for India and in I-League and Indian Super League teams. That is great,” he said. “But should our non-tribal youth who love to play cricket and whose forefathers have been here for generations have to suffer? If not Meghalaya, who will they play for? There are strict eligibility criteria and if they are born and brought up here, they cannot just go and play for another state.”
From the football arena also came a note of disapproval to the KSU demand.
One player, who has represented the state, said, “Football is almost totally dominated by Khasis in Meghalaya and there are only one or two who have made it to the state team while I have been playing. But I would hate to see it made a rule that only tribals should be in the team. In sport, only the best should be in the team. Competing against the best for a place in the team motivates us to improve.”