One of the first key resolutions of the new ruling dispensation in Nagaland was to rename the dilapidated Indira Gandhi Stadium in Kohima to Dr T Ao Stadium in honour of first Naga Olympian Dr Talimeren Ao. This year is being celebrated as the birth centenary year of the Naga legend who was flagbearer of the Indian contingent in the 1948 London Olympics where he led the national football team.
The decision came in for flak on social media and in some newspapers. An editorial in local English daily Morung Express called it a “populist action, conspicuously symbolic and unmistakably has the Bharatiya Janata Party’s stamp”. Award-winning Naga filmmaker Sophy Lasuh pointed out how clubs, institutions and states, except for Nagaland, associated with Dr T Ao had dedicated modern sport facilities and tournaments to the Naga legend. She observed that the Naga Olympian deserved more than an existing stadium being rechristened after him.
Even as the furore over the PDA’s renaming of IG stadium was dying down, the Kohima Village Council (KVC), a powerful organisation, has opposed the move, saying it is “not advisable”. The council in a press statement stated that “there are other ways to honour someone without dishonoring the other (sic)”. KVC was referring to the former prime ministers Indira Gandhi after whom the stadium is originally named and Rajiv Gandhi who laid the foundation stone of sporting facility.
Rajiv Gandhi laid the foundation stone of the IG Stadium on October 6, 1987, during his first and only visit to Nagaland. Interestingly, BJP’s own prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had inaugurated the IG Stadium on October 28, 2003. Vajpayee had also allocated Rs 18 crore for completing the remaining works at the stadium.
An interesting trivia associated with the IG Stadium is that its contractor Vilelie Khamo chauffeured prime minister Rajiv Gandhi around Kohima during his visit. The story goes that Nagaland government then didn’t have a good enough vehicle to ferry Gandhi and sought help from Kahmo who had the best vehicle in town — a brand new white Ambassador, used as a taxi. Khamo agreed but insisted that he would personally drive the prime minister around. It was Khamo who drove Rajiv Gandhi when he went to lay the foundation stone of the Indira Gandhi Stadium in memory of his mother.
Calling the foundation and inaugural stones, which greet visitors at the entry to the stadium, “historical monoliths”, the council said to destroy them “physically is not a wise decision”. Moreover, it also voiced surprise over the government’s decision to “suddenly do away with the legacy of these former prime ministers without consultation with the stakeholders, landowners and public leaders”. The council called for a new stadium to honour the footballer.
Lasuh, who directed ‘The Barefoot Legend’ a documentary on the Dr. T Ao, told indianexpress.com: “What are the chances of another Naga achieving this much anymore (than Dr T Ao). Even a stadium is not monumental enough to honour him.” Dr Neikiesalie (Nicky) Kire, an MLA in the ruling dispensation from the Kohima Village, was unavailable for comment on the issue.
In Nagaland, where football is a passion, there is a conspicuous absence of a national level football ground. Incessant corruption and the lack of political will have confined both the IG Stadium in the state capital and the State Stadium in Dimapur to a perpetual “under construction” status for decades. Last November, the Nagaland Sports Coaches Association addressed the media to highlight how there are no proper training fields for the seven sports disciplines that currently have academies, besides poor deplorable accommodation for the enrolled athletes.