Bharat Chhetri, former captain of the Indian hockey team, has now decided to spot talents in his own backyard.
Chhetri was a 12-year-old schoolboy from Paiyu Busty in Kalimpong, studying in Class VII, St George’s High School in Pedong, when a resident of Patna spotted his talent. “Our distant relative from Patna, Prem Singh Rana, had come to my village. I played football but never hockey. He insisted I go with him to Patna and learn hockey,” said Chhetri.
In Patna, there was no stopping Chhetri.
“I started liking hockey even more when I started goalkeeping,” Chhetri, who first wore the India jersey in 2001, said.
He went on to become the first goalkeeper to captain the Indian side at the Olympics. Chhetri led the hockey team at the 2012 London Olympics and other major international tournaments.
The Kalimpong player was awarded the Dhyan Chand Award for Lifetime Achievement in Sports and Games in 2018 by the President of India.
Chhetri has coached men’s and women’s national hockey team for major tournaments such as Asia Cup and Commonwealth Games.
“A couple of years back I told my wife I need to give back something to my place. We decided to shift from Bangalore to Kalimpong,” said Chhetri.
The hockey star plans to set up a sports academy at his native village in Kalimpong.
“ I will set up two 6,500-square-foot hockey fields complete with turfs. I see a lot of potential in the GTA and north Bengal region,” said Chhetri, who is looking at opening the academy in the next six months.
Last week, Chhetri with support from Kalimpong Police, held a daylong hockey tournament for boys and girls at Mela Ground.
“There was much talent on display which pleasantly surprised me,” said Chhetri.
Former Indian hockey captain Dhanraj Pillai, who is a friend of Chhetri and represented India in four Olympics, was present at the Kalimpong tournament.
“I will use all my resources to provide quality training in my academy,” said Chhetri. Hockey was a popular sport in the hills decades ago, but football and cricket have elbowed it out now.
“Hockey is my focus but I will try to nurture talents in other sports through collaborations,” added Chhetri.